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Witness Testimony of Mr. Jason R. Thigpen, Co-Founder and President Student Veterans Advocacy Group

Distinguished committee members – My name is Sergeant Jason R. Thigpen of the U.S. Army National Guard.  I am the Co-Founder and President of the Student Veterans Advocacy Group.  Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify here today, on a bill we helped draft, HR 3483 – “The Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011”.

The Student Veterans Advocacy Group is an organization run by student Veterans, for student Veterans and their dependents. Our mission is to ensure all Veterans, and/or their dependents, are provided the full educational benefits intended and promised to them upon the completion of their time-in-service, under conditions other than a dishonorable discharge.

The detrimental impact suffered by student Veterans across North Carolina, and approximately 40 other states, due to the change in federal law, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-377) on January 4, 2011.  As a direct result of this change in law thousands of student Veterans, and prospective student Veterans alike, faced the never-before issue of in-state residency for tuition purposes.

In a sense, our active-service members and current student Veterans whom, by-in-large, had no idea their State of residency for tuition purposes would invariably be the determining factor as to whether they could afford, much less, attain the educational benefits promised to them - for the sacrifices they made to protect our nation. 

One student Veteran emailed stating,

After proudly serving my country for more time deployed than home with my family, while losing friends in Iraq, and then moving my family to North Carolina for a better tomorrow…it’s just not fair for my country to take the education benefits from me, leaving me to have to move my family back to Washington and in with our family just so I could afford to pay the $10,000 out of my pocket, for something promised to me of which I sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears for.  It’s just not right.  This is not the kind of principles I was taught from my time in service.”

As student Veterans attending UNC-Wilmington, as supporters for both our active-service members and Veterans, and as disabled American Veteran – I was nearly brought to tears when hearing another student Veteran say,

“I’m supposed to graduate in December 2012, and may not be able to now.” 

Another student Veteran emailed stating,

“Had it not been for close friends and family, in the last few months, helping me out, I would be living out of my car.  I’m not quite sure how these sudden changes in the GI Bill happened, but it’s not what I was promised when I signed up.  It’s almost like being tossed in the deep in of the pool with a ruck-sack full of boulders.”

I met with a student Veteran, also attending UNC-Wilmington, regarding this issue.  He was literally crying, preventing him from even speaking for nearly five minutes.  I was so affected by his pain tears came to my eyes.  Three-quarters of the way into the semester he states,

I may have to drop out of school by weeks-end…I received an email from the school’s finance office that said I still have a balance of about $3,500 owed to the school, which must be paid within one week in order to not be dropped by the school.”

According to Public Law 111-377, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2010,

The Congressional Budget Office estimates a potential cost savings of $1 million over the 2011-2015 period, and a savings of $734 million over the 2011-2020 period.”

From the inception of the GI Bill in the 1940s, nearly 8 million service members were transformed from the educational benefits, never known before.  There was nearly a 7-dollar yield per 1-dollar investment into our Veterans, due to the GI Bill.  Not only did the GI Bill allow the military to become competitive with respect to many other jobs available nationwide, but it created an advantage for service members to attain a college degree.  This invariably lead to them getting better grades, better jobs, owning more businesses, and thusly paying more taxes, leading into one of the greatest investments, providing economic success for both a short and long-term basis.

According to a working group comprised of UNC system officials named UNC SERVES, in their April 2011 Report to the President

Veterans earn better grades and have a 75 percent graduation rate.  With the

exception of white males, veterans in all other race and gender groups earn more money than their non-veteran counterparts.  Veterans start more small businesses. In general, Veterans outperform non-Veterans.”

“To realize this potential our state must actively support military-affiliated students in its systems of public higher education. We want these students to choose a UNC education and we want them to live and work in North Carolina. The UNC SERVES Working Group believes that educating service members yields a high return on investment for North Carolina and the nation. And, in doing so the University makes a significant down payment on the promise of UNC Tomorrow to be more demand-driven, relevant and responsive to the needs of North Carolina.”

Additionally, one must consider the estimated economic impact on the state, expected to be nearly $26.5 Billion in 2013.  Setting aside the simple fact that the educational benefits were promised, as in signing a promissory note, which is past due, Veterans just want to collect what was promised to them.  It stands to reason that when changing such key variables, which have such a strong bearing on the economical prosperity of Our State and/or Nation’s economy - when taking away Veterans educational benefits – the forecasted models previously used are no longer valid.  As a result, our nation has sacrificed the Billions of dollars, previously forecasted, for a ten-year savings plan of about $734 Million. 

The outcome of which - is many of our Veterans will no longer achieve their educational goals, leaving more unemployed, whereby owning fewer businesses, directly resulting in an inverse affect, contradicting the economic forecasts previously researched and offered, yielding a negative return.

Without change, there is no savings of $734 Million, due to the detrimental affects, both societal and economical alike, Our State and Nation will suffer.

We now have an opportunity to resolve this, without the worry of seeking the estimated $137 Million per year needed to fund this bill.  By utilizing the following cost-saving measures with respect to the current federal budget, we can more than fully fund this bill….we can save nearly $175 Million more at a time our nation could use it.

1.       Based on the 2010 figures of over 75.6 Million outpatient visits to VA medical treatment facilities – reports of over-mailing, most likely due to a software printing error, of medical appointment reminders with blank pages following the actual reminders being mailed out to the patients, sometimes up to four per patient per month.  Conservative estimate of this occurring 1.5 times per outpatient visit yields a saving of: (Office of VA, Veterans Health Administration)

                        75.6(# of outpatient visits in 2010) * 1.5(occurrences) = $113.4                            Million * .75 (total cost estimate per mailing)

                        =  $85.05 Million

2.       Transportation of brokered claim files among VA Regional Offices – Which could easily be done electronically from one centralized location saving:

                        =  $740,000 (est. spent by VARO each year)

3.       Overpayments of near $85 Million in transportation costs to VA Health Facilities, which could be recaptured by offering competitive awarding bid contracts, at a savings of: (Veterans Health Administration – Audit of Oversight Patient Transportation Contracts, ’10)

                        =  $85 Million

4.       By creating more competitive contract administration in the VHA’s Home Resp. Care Program, the cost could be reduced substantially and prevent overpayment of nearly $17 Million, saving:

                        =  $17 Million

5.       Through more stringent oversight of the acquisition processes, all inclusive, of medical equipment and supplies, there could be savings of:

                        =  $ 41 Million

6.       Through the utilization of better controls in clinical sharing agreements for both monitoring and negotiated practices when using non-competitive of the same for professional personnel, could save:

                        =  $ 60 Million

7.       Rather than making “market” purchases of heart-related items/replacements, using national contracts through competition would yield a substantial savings of nearly:

                        =  $ 22 Million

TOTAL POTENTIAL SAVINGS FOUND:

                        =  $ 310.79 Million (per year)

 

TOTAL YEARLY OFFSET TO SIGNING OUR BILL, HR 3483 = $137 MILLION LEAVING A DIFFERENCE REMAINING FOR OTHER VA PROGRAMS OF $ 173.79 MILLION.

Signing this bill into law would equalize education benefits for Veterans who attend public or private institutions of higher learning.  In addition, the bill would reduce or eliminate the financial burden Veterans must pay out-of-pocket for their education.  Currently, Veterans who enroll in private institutions are eligible for more benefits than Veterans who enroll at public institutions, including both community colleges and universities alike.  This legislation would enable all veterans, regardless of whether they choose to attend a public or private institution, to be eligible to receive up to $17,500 in education benefits per academic year. 

The result is a better future economical outlook and investment in our Nation, for now and tomorrow.  With your help and sponsorship of HR 3483 – “The Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011”….you have a true chance to be heroes for thousands of our student Veterans across this great nation.

Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Authored and advocated by:

Jason R. Thigpen

Co-Founder/President

Student Veterans Advocacy Group

Website:  www.mysvag.org

Email:  jasonthigpen@studentveteransadvocacygroup.org

Phone:  (910) 392-5936