(Before It's News)
President Obama Announces New Actions to Ensure Service Members and Veterans Are Getting the Most Value out of Their Federal Education Benefits
Over the past eight years, the President has worked to ensure that we are fulfilling our promises to all those who have served and protected our country. This means providing veterans the benefits they have earned, the health care that they need, and the resources and assistance to succeed when transitioning back to civilian life.
A central tenet of this promise is to make sure that we do all we can to ensure that our service members, veterans, and their families have the protections, resources, information, and support they need to pursue the American dream. Since the beginning of the Administration, the President has made a commitment to improve education outcomes for service members, veterans, and their family members. And that begins with enabling them to maximize their federal education benefits, including benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Tuition Assistance Program, and the Department of Education’s (ED) Federal student aid programs.
The Obama Administration has delivered on that promise through actions that expand access to high-quality postsecondary opportunities for our Nation’s heroes. In 2012, President Obama announced the Principles of Excellence Executive Order, to ensure that veterans, service members, and their families have adequate information, support, and protections while using their federal education benefits. Since then, the Administration has made significant progress, with over 6,000 educational institutions signing on to provide access to information and increased oversight of programs. We have launched the GI Bill Comparison Tool, which has made it easier for over 1.3 million individuals to research educational institutions and training programs approved for the GI Bill and also compare educational institutions. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has provided nearly 1.7 million individuals with $68.9 billion in education benefits since its inception in 2009. The President signed legislation that expanded Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits eligibility criteria under the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to the surviving spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001, and legislation requiring all 50 states, Washington D.C., and U.S. Territories to provide recently transitioning veterans and dependents in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher learning – and now all 50 states are doing just that.
But there is more work to be done. That is why, on this Veterans Day, the President is announcing new measures to ensure that service members, veterans, and their families are treated fairly when they use their Federal education benefits. Building on the Principles of Excellence issued by the President and other executive actions, the Administration is expanding on these efforts by issuing a Presidential Memorandum that outlines additional steps, including:
- Establishing a pilot program to inform school choice: Developing and launching a pilot program and evaluation to find the best methods for counseling service members and helping them to make informed educational choices when enrolling in educational and training programs. ED, DOD, VA, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will collaborate on the design and evaluation of this pilot.
- Improving data-sharing: Improving data sharing among Federal agencies, including the Department of Labor (DOL), DOD, ED, and VA, to increase transparency and improve access to comprehensive information on service member and veteran student outcome measures, including education attainment, career outcomes, student debt levels, and student default rates.
- Expanding the use of online tools: Strengthening online resources, such as the GI Bill Comparison Tool and College Scorecard, through the work of VA and ED, to make it easier for prospective students to evaluate the quality of the programs they are considering.
- Promoting military apprenticeship programs:Taking steps to promote the enhancement and implementation of military apprenticeship programs for service members and spouses through coordination by DOL, DOD, ED, and DHS. This includes developing a plan to enhance and implement military apprenticeship opportunities for service members to improve job skills and obtain industry-recognized credentials and certificates while on active duty; exploring the expansion of the current United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) to include all services; and working to further reduce barriers to employment caused by restrictive state occupational licensing requirements for military spouses and service members transitioning to civilian jobs.
- Amending the Post-9/11 GI Bill: Developing a legislative proposal to amend the Post-9/11 GI Bill to ensure that veterans who use their benefits for credentialing and licensing tests are fairly charged.
- Cracking down on deceptive marketing: Strengthening coordination across Federal agencies and developing standard protocols to protect veterans from deceptive and fraudulent marketing of educational services and benefits.
- Formalizing collaboration across the government: Formalizing an interagency Working Group with representatives from DOD, DOL, ED, VA, DHS, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Small Business Administration (SBA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and other Federal agencies, offices, and initiatives, as appropriate, to coordinate policy development and implementation going forward. The working group will also initiate an enforcement subcommittee to ensure ongoing and continued coordination on strengthening oversight, enforcement, and accountability within these benefits programs and better streamlining protocols and information-sharing.
Through these steps, the President is ensuring that the good work done by this Administration will carry forward for years to come, and that veterans, service members, and their families will have the tools they need to succeed in the economy of the 21st century.
Building on a Record of Progress
In addition to the actions announced today to strengthen education and training programs for those that have served our country, the Administration continues to take action to address the five core priorities that the President has set out for serving our veterans:
1. Health Care – Making sure veterans have timely and high-quality access to care
2. Benefits – Tackling the backlog of claims and modernizing the appeals process
3. Homelessness – Working to prevent and end veteran homelessness
4. Economic Opportunity – Fighting to give veterans every chance to enjoy the American Dream
5. Resources and Transformation at the VA – Making sure VA is serving every veteran
Over the past eight years, the Administration has made significant strides across each of these five pillars, and we are not letting up. In conjunction with Veterans Day, the Administration is announcing three additional milestones that build on this record of success:
- Ending Veteran Homelessness in the State of Delaware – In 2010, the Administration released Opening Doors, the nation’s first-ever strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Since that time, we have made remarkable progress in meeting that goal. We have reduced veteran homelessness by 47% – nearly half – since 2010. And the progress is even more pronounced for those veterans that had been living on the street and without a place to stay, as unsheltered veteran homelessness has declined by 56% since 2010. More than 30 communities and 2 states have previously announced they have ended veteran homelessness. And this week, the state of Delaware is joining that list, announcing that they have put an end to veteran homelessness statewide. Next week, the First Lady and Dr. Biden will convene local officials, homelessness stakeholders, advocates, and others to identify strategies to ensure this critical progress continues.
- Increasing Federal Hiring of Veterans – In 2009, the Administration embarked on a concerted effort to ensure that the Federal government was doing its part to provide veterans with the employment opportunities they deserve. As part of this, the President signed Executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government. And the Administration has made good on that promise. Today, OPM released the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Executive Branch Report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The report notes that 6,000 more veterans were hired in FY15 compared to FY14, bringing the percentage of new veterans hired across the Federal government to 32.5 percent. All told, the Federal government has hired approximately 516,000 veterans since FY09, and veterans now represent 30.9 percent of the Federal workforce, as compared to 25.8 percent in FY 2009.
- Increasing Data Sharing to Promote Transparency for Veterans and Students – The Department of Education (ED) will use disability data from the Department of Veterans Affairs to proactively contact disabled veterans who have student loan debt and inform them of ED’s total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge process. Unlike other borrowers, those identified through the data match will not be required to submit documentation of their eligibility. Instead, they are eligible for a streamlined process by which they simply sign and return the completed application. This effort will ensure that eligible borrowers with disabilities can more efficiently and effectively apply for TPD discharge of their students loans.
These efforts build on progress made across-the-board – cutting the backlog of initial disability claims by nearly 90 percent, increasing veterans’ access to health care, increasing the overall level of funding requested for VA benefits and programs by over 85 percent, and reducing the veteran unemployment rate by more than half.
Moving forward, the Administration is committed to making sure this work carries on far into the future, ensuring that our nation upholds the sacred covenant made with those that have served this country.