By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Dec 20, 2012 6:16:49 EST
A landmark veterans bill aimed at protecting valuable GI Bill benefits from being wasted passed the Senate late Wednesday and is on its way to final passage in the House.
The compromise bill prevents schools that receive veterans’ education benefits from paying bounties for recruiting students and requires the VA to provide more consumer-oriented information to help veterans pick which schools to attend.
Called the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act, the measure was first introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who is concerned that veterans lack information to make wise choices when it comes to choosing schools.
“As our nation’s heroes make the transition from the battlefield to civilian life, we must do everything we can to arm veterans with the information they need to make informed decisions about their educational benefits, and ultimately ensure they remain competitive in today’s market,” Bilirakis said in a statement about the bill, HR 4057.
Although Bilirakis is the sponsor, the final bill is the result of negotiations between the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, which had their own separate legislation. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the lawmaker behind creation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, was chief sponsor of the Senate’s similar legislation.
Some of the consumer-related information is being collected by the VA under an executive order signed earlier this year by President Obama.
Part of the purpose of the bill is to have information available in one place. Veterans’ advocates have said that would make it easier for a person who has spent years in the service and doesn’t know much about higher educational institutions to discover facts that would help her decide which school to attend. A provision of the compromise bill tells the VA to avoid duplication with other programs as much as possible, suggesting the VA needs to have a only single website that contains links to information outside the VA, such as Education Department guides for non-veterans.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee chairman, said one of the reasons for pushing the bill is to try to prevent veterans, who generally have only 36 months of GI Bill benefits, from wasting them on courses or institutions that don’t meet their long-term goals.
“This bipartisan legislation will provide much needed tools for student veterans to make better informed decisions on how to use their educational benefits,” Miller said in a statement. “By empowering veterans with more information for post-secondary educational options, their hard-earned benefit will go further to put them on a path to meaningful employment in the civilian sector... Continue reading.