Durbin: VA Suspends GI Bill Benefits From Some For-profit Colleges

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today asked the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a list of colleges and universities from which it has suspended or withdrawn GI Bill and education benefits after discovering questionable recruiting practices used by these institutions. In a response to a December 2010 letter from Durbin, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki explained that the VA had taken these measures after compiling information about erroneous, deceptive or misleading practices at these colleges and universities.

"I commend you for taking a more careful look at how for-profit schools attract and serve students assisted by VA education benefits," wrote Durbin. "Suspension and withdrawal of approval for schools found to have used questionable recruiting practices is a step in the right direction. I ask that VA provide more detailed information on the process it is using to assess the schools, as well as the identity of those that have had their approval affected."

Secretary Shinseki also added that the VA began conducting in-person interviews with student veterans who have received education benefits. According to the Secretary, a variety of questions are posed, including questions pertaining to student experiences with recruitment practices. Additionally, Voice of the Veteran customer satisfaction surveys are being conducted for all VA benefit programs.

In August 2010, Durbin joined Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jim Webb (D-VA) and four other Senators in asking the VA and the Department of Defense for detailed information on how veteran and military tuition assistance program funding is being spent. Specifically, the Senators asked for “information on incidents of misrepresentation or fraud on the part of for-profit colleges and any complaints regarding aggressive or deceptive marketing, poor quality coursework, unexpected costs, or inability to obtain promised employment.”

After receiving responses from both agencies, Durbin sent follow-up letters in December 2010 to Secretary Shinseki and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, asking for further information. Durbin has not yet received a response for the Department of Defense.

[The VA’s response is attached and the text of Durbin’s follow-up letter is below]

February 14, 2011
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

Thank you for your response to my December 17, 2010, letter urging you to reevaluate how the Department of Veterans’ Affairs monitors and administers education benefits paid to for-profit colleges. I am pleased that the VA recognizes changes need to be made in oversight of the education of VA beneficiaries at for-profit schools. I would appreciate additional information regarding the schools that have had their approval suspended or withdrawn as a result of your investigations of their practices.

It has become clear that the “military and veteran market” is of increasing importance to for-profit schools. Your review is not the first to find “erroneous, deceptive, or misleading” recruitment practices. Several investigations and reports have found that many for-profit schools aggressively target servicemembers and veterans with dedicated recruiting teams and marketing strategies. As stated in a report released by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the great expansion of military and veteran education benefits in recent years may have exposed the newest generation of veterans “to the worst excesses of the for-profit industry.”

I commend you for taking a more careful look at how for-profit schools attract and serve students assisted by VA education benefits. Suspension and withdrawal of approval for schools found to have used questionable recruiting practices is a step in the right direction. I ask that VA provide more detailed information on the process it is using to assess the schools, as well as the identity of those that have had their approval affected.

As mentioned in your letter, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvement Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-377) presents the VA with opportunities to hold schools more accountable. I urge you to implement this new law in ways that protect our veterans and servicemembers from improper recruiting practices and education programs of questionable quality, and protect the taxpayer from excessive cost. Congress provided this new authority expressly so that you could approve and disapprove courses to reach these goals. In addition, VA should ensure that State Approval Agencies are empowered to carry out their compliance and oversight missions to protect VA education benefit recipients when circumstances and facts indicate.

As you state in your letter, the importance of ensuring that veterans and servicemembers, and their dependents, receive a quality education should be our central focus. I am committed to working with you and all interested stakeholders to resolve these concerns until we are certain that no VA beneficiary is mistreated nor failing to receive the valuable education we all expect.

Sincerely,
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

SENATOR DURBIN

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