Defending Student Veterans in NYC

 

presser_300.jpgLast July, we stood with Public Advocate Tish James as she introduced a bill to the NYC Council to ensure city government provides support to student veterans and holds exploitive for-profit colleges accountable if they fail to deliver quality education to veterans using their GI Bill educational benefits. Video of that press conference is HERE and our statement of support for the bill's introduction is HERE.

Today that bill at last was brought to a joint hearing of the Council's Committees on Veterans and Higher Education. Director of Policy & Legislative Advocacy Sam Molik delivered testimony on behalf of the Alliance. His testimony is below:

DuUPoXwXQAAJa42.jpgGood afternoon and thank you to the Chair and the Committee for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Samuel Molik and I am the Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy for the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-driven, grassroots policy advocacy and community-building organization that advances veterans and their families as civic leaders.

On behalf of our members and supporters, we state our firm support for of Intro 1047 and we applaud the Public Advocate and this Committee for introducing and supporting this bill that ensures our city resources are used to protect veterans from predatory for-profit institutions that seek to exploit their hard-earned educational benefits without providing the high-quality education and support they deserve. This is a nationwide problem that our current presidential administration has only sought to further deregulate, and we need for city government to step in with solutions. We strongly urge this committee to pass and implement Intro 1047 without delay.

When Public Advocate Tish James introduced this bill last July, our Founding Director Kristen Rouse, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who herself used the GI Bill to earn her degrees, stated that it was more important than ever to root out the bad actors preying upon the more than 12,000 student veterans in our city attempting to use the rich educational benefits that they have earned. Advocates have fought hard in recent years to expand, protect, and defend what is now the Forever GI Bill, but these benefits seem to be continuously in peril, even as we still have troops fighting and losing their lives in our nation’s ongoing wars. Whether it is delayed GI Bill payments because of VA failures at the federal level or predatory bad actors exploiting benefits locally, student veterans need every measure of support and advocacy that our city can provide.

Even as I speak, two NYC Veterans Alliance members are meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill alongside Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to demand accountability on recent failures in getting student veterans the payments due them and to defend the GI Bill, in addition to other vital concerns for NYC veterans. I will tell you what they are telling our Congressional delegation: the time to act is now.

In a report released just this month, the VA’s own Inspector General estimated that $2.3 billion could be going to for-profit schools without proper academic accreditation because of massive oversight failures.[1] It has been well-documented over the last decade that for-profit institutions target veterans for their GI Bill benefits, saddling student veterans with debt for degrees that too often can’t be used for the careers they were promised.[2] In a 2014 US Senate report, it was documented that 66 percent of veterans who attended for-profit colleges using GI Bill benefits left the program without a degree.[3]

A legal loophole known as the “90/10 rule”—referring to a rubric for for-profit institutions receiving federal funding, and footnoted in this testimony for your reference—creates an incentive for for-profit colleges to target veterans. In 2011 a senior official at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) wrote in a New York Times op-ed that this loophole “gives for-profit colleges an incentive to see service members as nothing more than dollar signs in uniform, and to use aggressive marketing to draw them in.”[4] Correctives passed under the Obama administration have been repealed under the current administration, as have ethics rules that otherwise brought some measure of accountability.[5]

The federal government simply is not providing adequate safeguards and accountability to ensure student veterans receive a quality education in return for the GI Bill benefits they’ve earned by putting their lives on the line for our nation. We need for our city government to step up for veterans with the vital support and protections that Intro 1047 would provide. With VetConnectNYC, a robust staff of outreach specialists, and consistent connectivity with city and state agencies—the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services is best prepared to serve as a hub of information and resourcing for the latest in veteran educational benefits, best practices, and identification of institutions that aren’t meeting their obligations to our student veterans. This is substantive action that is needed right now. We urge this Committee to pass this bill without further delay.

As our Founding Director, Kristen Rouse, stated at this bill’s introduction last July, “Veterans need support and resources in order to succeed. Our city government must marshal all available resources to root out bad actors profiteering off of the benefits rightfully earned by veterans.” On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.

 

[1] https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/12/05/va-still-paying-millions-gi-bill-tuition-ineligible-profit-schools-watchdog.html

[2]  https://www.businessinsider.com/for-profit-colleges-target-military-veterans-2017-12

[3] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/why-these-veterans-regret-their-for-profit-college-degrees-and-debt

[4] Hollister Petraeus, “For-Profit Colleges, Vulnerable GIs,” the New York Times (Sept. 22, 2011), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/opinion/for-profit-colleges-vulnerable-gis.html

[5] https://taskandpurpose.com/va-scrap-ethics-law-helps-safeguards-veterans-predatory-profit-colleges/ and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/29/business/veterans-affairs-ethics.html?referer=