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Witness Testimony of Tom Tarantino, Senior Legislative Associate, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and members of the committee, on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s 200,000 Member Veterans and supporters, I thank you for inviting me to testify at this hearing to share our members’ views on these important issues. 

My name is Tom Tarantino and I am the Senior Legislative Associate with IAVA.  I proudly served 10 years in the U.S. Army beginning my career as an enlisted Reservist and leaving service as an Active-Duty Cavalry Officer.  Throughout those 10 years, my single most important duty was to take care of other soldiers.  In the military, they teach us to have each other’s backs. Although my uniform is now a suit and tie, I am proud to work with this Congress to ensure the entire country has the backs of America’s service members and veterans.

Bill #

Name/Subject

Sponsor

Position

H.R. 120

Disabled Veterans’ Surviving Spouse Home Loans Act

Rep. Foxx

Support

H.R. 240

Preferential VA Contracts to Veteran Businesses

Rep. Filner

Support

H.R. 1263

Mortgage Protections for Surviving Spouses

Rep. Filner

Support

H.R. 1911

Protecting Veterans’ Homes Act

Rep. Braley

Support

H.R. 2274

Annual Reports on the NGIB to Congress

Rep. Bilirakis

Support

H.R. 2301

Streamlining Education Claims Processing Act of 2011

Rep. Stutzman

Oppose

H.R. 2302

Reports to Congress on VA Conferences

Rep. Stutzman

No Position

H.R. 2329

SCRA Transparency for Financial Institutions

Rep. Johnson

Support

H.R. 2345

Extension of Benefits to Veteran Paralympians

Rep. Stutzman

Support

H.R. 2301 - Streamlining Education Claims Processing Act of 2011 

IAVA opposes H.R. 2301.  Although we believe that this legislation was well intentioned, it could, in its current form, result in late fees or non-payment charges for student veterans, may cause them to be barred or disenrolled from their academic programs, and cause veterans to pay a bill that the Government promised to cover.

The bill seeks to move VA educational assistance payments made to educational institutions to the end of the term.  However, without a clause protecting the veteran from penalties, fees, and other measures resulting from the delayed payment, the unintended consequences from this bill may be destructive to some veterans’ academic careers, and will act as a disincentive for schools to enroll veterans.  

This measure will likely disadvantage veterans who are attending college less than full-time.  The proposed measure forces schools to total tuition and fee costs and divide them by what the school determines as “full-time” in order to establish the school’s “cap.”  Students attending full-time will never notice the difference.  However, part-time students will be short-changed because fees are typically charged at a flat rate regardless of how many units a student takes.

For Example: John attends a university that charges $2400 in tuition per term.  Additionally, there are $2500 in health, student life, and facilities fees that are charged per term.  Full time is 12 units at this school.

Under the proposed formula, John would have a $408 per credit hour cap.

$2400 Tuition + $2500 Fees = $4900 per term / 12 Units = $408 per credit hour cap

If John takes a full load at 12 units:

$2400 Tuition + $2500 Fees= $4900 per term – (12 Units x $408) =  $0 charged to the veteran per term

But if he only takes 8 units:

$1600 Tuition + $2500 Fees= $4,100 per term – (8 Units x $408 cap= $3264) = $836 charged to the veteran per term

IAVA supports streamlining GI Bill processing at the VA to help veterans get their benefits in a more expedient and uncomplicated fashion.  However, such efforts must be done with the veteran beneficiaries in mind.  Reducing bureaucracy at the VA is important, but it cannot occur at the veterans’ expense.   


Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and members of the committee, on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s 200,000 Member Veterans and supporters, I thank you for inviting me to testify at this hearing to share our members’ views on these important issues. 

My name is Tom Tarantino and I am the Senior Legislative Associate with IAVA.  I proudly served 10 years in the U.S. Army beginning my career as an enlisted Reservist and leaving service as an Active-Duty Cavalry Officer.  Throughout those 10 years, my single most important duty was to take care of other soldiers.  In the military, they teach us to have each other’s backs. Although my uniform is now a suit and tie, I am proud to work with this Congress to ensure the entire country has the backs of America’s service members and veterans.

Bill #

Name/Subject

Sponsor

Position

H.R. 120

Disabled Veterans’ Surviving Spouse Home Loans Act

Rep. Foxx

Support

H.R. 240

Preferential VA Contracts to Veteran Businesses

Rep. Filner

Support

H.R. 1263

Mortgage Protections for Surviving Spouses

Rep. Filner

Support

H.R. 1911

Protecting Veterans’ Homes Act

Rep. Braley

Support

H.R. 2274

Annual Reports on the NGIB to Congress

Rep. Bilirakis

Support

H.R. 2301

Streamlining Education Claims Processing Act of 2011

Rep. Stutzman

Oppose

H.R. 2302

Reports to Congress on VA Conferences

Rep. Stutzman

No Position

H.R. 2329

SCRA Transparency for Financial Institutions

Rep. Johnson

Support

H.R. 2345

Extension of Benefits to Veteran Paralympians

Rep. Stutzman

Support

H.R. 120 - Disabled Veterans’ Surviving Spouses Home Loans Act 

IAVA supports H.R. 120. Allowing the spouse of permanently disabled veteran to be recognized as a veteran when applying for a home loan is the least that we can do to recognize the sacrifices made by our military families.  Permanently disabled veterans have the unfortunate fate of enduring physical and emotional hardships - but they don’t agonize alone.  This bill will provide a small measure of comfort toward easing the new emotional and financial challenges after the death of their veteran.  Passing this bill will create a valuable respite for surviving spouses in providing a safe home for their families, and for themselves.

H.R. 240 – Preferential VA Contracts to Veteran Businesses 

IAVA supports H.R. 240. This bill ensures that contracting officers bypass usual competitive procedures for awarding contracts, if qualified veteran owned businesses are competing for the contract.  If passed, IAVA believes that this bill can be an effective means in attempting to reduce veteran unemployment and increasing the success of the over 2.2 million veteran-owned small businesses nationwide.

H.R. 1263 - Mortgage Protections for Surviving Spouses 

IAVA supports H.R. 1263. We believe that expanding Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protections to surviving spouses is necessary to help ease the already heavy burden born by our Gold Star families. Currently, the SCRA protects military members from having to suffer the sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property, if the failure to meet their obligation resulted as a consequence of their military service.  This bill seeks to extend these same protections to the surviving spouses of military service members who die while in the service or as a result of a service-connected injury.  Surviving spouses dealing with the loss of their service member should not have to fear the loss of their vehicle or home in a time of mourning and crisis.

H.R. 1911 - Protecting Veterans’ Homes Act

IAVA strongly supports the Protecting Veterans’ Homes Act.  In 2008, IAVA fought to extend foreclosure protections for veterans from 9 to 12 months. During these difficult economic times, foreclosure rates in military towns increased at four times the national average, and homelessness reached 107,000 veterans on any given night. IAVA believes that permanently extending these protections can be instrumental in reducing both foreclosure rates and homelessness among veterans. Giving veterans three more months to keep their homes and shelter their families is a small but meaningful step towards reducing these staggering statistics.

H.R. 2274 - Annual Reports on the New GI Bill to Congress

IAVA supports H.R. 2274. By mandating yearly, separate information from the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Congress stands to receive multifaceted reports regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s effects on retention levels in the Armed Forces, its span to non-active duty personnel, current efforts to expand knowledge of the Post 9/11-GI Bill, and levels of utilization and certificates or degrees earned under the bill.  Recommendations from both secretaries will help identify improvements in the administration of the New GI Bill to better serve our Next Greatest Generation.

H.R. 2301 - Streamlining Education Claims Processing Act of 2011

IAVA opposes H.R. 2301.  Although we believe that this legislation was well intentioned, it could, in its current form, result in late fees or non-payment charges for student veterans and may cause them to be barred or disenrolled from their academic programs. 

The bill seeks to move VA educational assistance payments made to educational institutions to the end of the term.  However, without a clause protecting the veteran from penalties, fees, and other measures resulting from the delayed payment, the unintended consequences from this bill may be destructive to some veterans’ academic careers, and will act as a disincentive for schools to enroll veterans.  

Additionally, the second part of the bill creates a per-school standard for determining maximum cost per credit hour rates based on full-time enrollment.  This is a regressive proposal that completely violates the intent of the Post-9/11 Educational Improvements Act of 2010.  That bill was supposed to remove the overly complicated, confusing and unsustainable tuition and fee structure.

This measure will likely disadvantage veterans who are attending college less than full-time.  The proposed measure forces schools to total tuition and fee costs and divide them by what the school determines as “full-time” in order to establish the school’s “cap.”  Students attending full-time will never notice the difference.  However, part-time students will be short-changed because fees are typically charged at a flat rate regardless of how many units a student takes.

For Example: John attends a university that charges $2400 in tuition per term.  Additionally, there are $2500 in health, student life, and facilities fees that are charged per term.  Full time is 12 units at this school.

Under the proposed formula, John would have a $408 per credit hour cap.

$2400 Tuition + $2500 Fees= $4900 per term / 12 Units = $408 per credit hour cap

If John takes a full load at 12 units:

$2400 Tuition + $2500 Fees = $4900 per term – (12 Units x $408) =  $0 charged to the veteran per term

But if he only takes 8 units:

$1600 Tuition + $2500 Fees = $4,100 per term – (8 Units x $408 cap= $3264) = $836 charged to the veteran per term

The suggested calculation forces institutions to set a cap per credit hour, which, at an equal fee amount, favors full-time over less than full-time enrollment and could result in higher out of pocket expenses for part-time student veterans.  

IAVA supports streamlining GI Bill processing at the VA to help veterans get their benefits in a more expedient and uncomplicated fashion.  However, such efforts must be done with the veteran beneficiaries in mind.  Reducing bureaucracy at the VA is important, but it cannot occur at the veterans’ expense.   

H.R. 2302 - Reports to Congress on VA Conferences

IAVA has no position on H.R. 2302

H.R. 2329 - SCRA Transparency for Financial Institutions

IAVA supports H.R. 2329.  We believe that this bill will result in greater transparency and ease for service members to make use of their rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). SCRA provides significant benefits to the brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces at a time of great stress and uncertainty. By requiring lending institutions to have a named compliance officer to verify the institution’s adherence to SCRA provisions, H.R. 2329helps to ensure that our deployed warriors do not have to return home to illegal foreclosures and repossessions. Veterans should not have to fight another war to have things returned to them that should never have been taken in the first place.

H.R. 2345 - Extension of Benefits to Veteran Paralympians

IAVA supports H.R. 2345.  This bill extends the VA’s allowance to veteran Paralympians to 2018.  These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. Supporting these brave and talented Americans is the right thing to do, and showcases the amazing drive and resilience that this generation of warriors have to offer society.