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Begich, Murray, Akaka Introduce GI Benefit Watchdog Bill

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today joined Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the country to unveil the GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012.

The bill, which was introduced in the Senate, will give service members and veterans using the GI Bill and other VA education benefits access to information that would help them make informed decisions about the schools they attend so they get the most out of the benefit. This bill would also require that VA and DoD develop a joint policy to curb aggressive recruiting and misleading marketing aimed at service members and veterans using the GI Bill.

“With the unemployment rate unacceptably high among our nation’s veterans, many of them find themselves without the information to access the skills and education they need to enter the workforce, leaving them susceptible to aggressive recruiting and marketing schemes,” said Begich. “This bill will expand access to information on topics like student debt and  veteran enrollment, increase availability to academic advisors, and better coordinate efforts to curb aggressive marketing  so that our former servicemen and women do not fall victim to predatory practices.”

Begich added that with roughly 10 percent of Alaska-based troops making up the ground forces in Afghanistan, the GI Bill is crucial to their future and their education. Strengthening the original bill with the GI Consumer Awareness Act will provide those who have so honorably served with the tools necessary to make the right decisions for their future, he added.

The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012 complements veterans’ educational assistance programs by requiring VA to provide beneficiaries with easy-to-understand information about schools that are approved for GI Bill use. 

  • Information Availability:  Calls for disclosure of, among other data, statistics related to student loan debt, transferability of credits earned, veteran enrollment, program preparation for licensing and certification, and job placement rates.
  • Information Dissemination:  Requires VA to provide educational beneficiaries with easy-to-understand information about schools that are approved for GI Bill benefit use. 
  • Staffing and Training:  Requires educational institutions to have at least one employee who is knowledgeable about benefits available to service members and veterans.  This legislation further requires that academic advising, tutoring, career and placement counseling services, and referrals to Vet Centers are available and that institutions offer training to faculty members on matters that are relevant to service members and veterans.
  • Curbing Misleading Marketing and Aggressive Recruiting:  Requires VA and the Department of Defense to develop a joint policy on aggressive recruiting and misleading marketing aimed at service members, veterans, and other beneficiaries. 

"The New GI Bill is one of the single greatest tools new veterans have to protect against unemployment in this tough economy,” said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff.  “IAVA fought hard for its historic passage in 2008, and we applaud Chairman Murray, Senators Akaka and Begich for stepping up to protect it. Every great career starts with a great education. But right now, vets lack clear and consistent information about their education opportunities. Identifying the right school or program is the first crucial step towards getting the best education and training for the job market. The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act will give vets a head start, so they can apply to the school that’s right for them and take full advantage of the benefits they’ve earned.”

"Today's veterans are being given the opportunity of a lifetime to improve their economic viability through education with the Post 9/11 GI Bill,” said Student Veterans of America Executive Director Mike Dakduk. “In order to most effectively take advantage of this generous benefit, however, we need to make sure that they are provided with the proper information to make informed decisions about their future alma mater, and Student Veterans of America is proud to support this Bill which does just that."

The bill is also supported by the Vietnam Veterans of America, the VFW, AMVETS, and the Military Officers Association of America.

In 2012, over 590,000 service members, veterans, and other beneficiaries are expected to enroll in educational institutions using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expected to spend over $9 billion in 2012 on Post-9/11 GI Bill payments and over $2 billion for the nearly 400,000 beneficiaries of VA’s other education programs.    

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