WASHINGTON – Strengthening the GI Bill, institutional accountability and protecting military-connected families from unethical and illegal practices were among the top concerns that various veteran and military-service groups want to see addressed in a reauthorized Higher Education Act.
At a brief press conference Thursday at the Longworth House Office Building, representatives of several advocacy groups and nonprofits spoke about common concerns among their constituents. The show of unity included organizations such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Veterans Education Success, Student Veterans of America, the American Legion, the National Military Family Association and organizations representing vets from the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Ashlynne Haycock, deputy director of policy for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said her organization, which represents 85,000 people, shares the same goals as the other groups.
In addition, closing loopholes in the required 90-10 ratio of federal funds to other payment sources received by institutions also was cited as a major concern. Some schools take advantage of loopholes to garner a larger proportion of federal funds than regulations allow them to have.
“We’re very mindful there is a broad range of individuals who receive federal educational assistance,” she said. “We definitely don’t want to focus only on us and put the burden on somebody else, make somebody else a bigger target. We definitely would like to see a comprehensive, targeted approach for anyone who is affect by this loophole. I think we’re pretty optimistic. We’ve seen some movement lately.”
Some suggested categorizing financial benefits for military-connected students, such as the GI Bill, as federal funds would help prevent some schools from using predatory tactics to lure those students and drain their benefits while having low persistence rates or causing students to graduate with unnecessary debt.
She echoed a call for preserving loan forgiveness for public service and simplification of the existing program.
“It’s pretty complicated right now,” Davis said. “And we’d like to expand it to other occupations such as the mental health field. Nationally, there’s a shortage of providers and the need for mental health services is growing. Including that field in public service loan forgiveness would incentivize providers to go that route. In turn, that would benefit those who need the services.”
The issues raised Thursday are part of a “comprehensive list” of priorities for Student Veterans of America, said vice president of government affairs Lauren Augustine, who represents the 1,500-chapter nonprofit.
SVA, she said, is taking a holistic perspective “that both doubles down on the investment America is making” in military-connected students “and also grows protections for those students to prevent predatory practices that promote fraud, waste and abuse.”
“We know there’s a lot of good will to address some of these things in HEA,” she said. “We hope we can help drive that to a reality.”
LaMont Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones