The House of Representatives voted this week to cap the amount of tuition covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill for veterans enrolled in public flight schools, among other changes.
Currently, these programs at public schools are covered at the in-state tuition rate, the same as any other degree program at the schools. But advocates of the legislation, passed as part of The Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Bill Mulder (Ret.) Transition Improvement Act, say this has led to abuse by some schools and puts taxpayers on the hook for expensive training.
Leaders from the nonprofits Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors backed the bill, which would, more broadly, reform the way service members are prepared for civilian life after the military.
“Contracted programs have exploited the law through partnerships with public school programs, which have no ceiling on GI Bill charges,” the organizations wrote in a letter to Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, who introduced the Transition Improvement Act. “This contract education loophole allows programs to exploit veterans and GI Bill beneficiaries, demonstrating a clear pattern of abuse on tuition levels while making these already high-cost programs even more costly to taxpayers and other veterans.”
The letter added that this can also happen at public schools that own their own equipment.
The proposed cap would bring the cost of public-school programs in line with what’s covered at all private schools, or up to $23,571.94 for the upcoming 2018-19 school year. Students could still take advantage of the Yellow Ribbon program, which is a voluntary agreement schools can enter with the Veterans Affairs Department to split costs not covered by the GI Bill.
The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support, also includes a provision that would allow students at public flight schools to use the total amount of the GI Bill they would get over the full 36 months of the benefit in 18 months, an option that would be specific to these programs. Additionally, it lifts a longstanding ban on being able to apply GI Bill funds toward a private pilot’s license.
Data from the Veterans Affairs Department show just over 3,200 veterans used the GI Bill to attend flight schools in fiscal 2017 at a total cost of $51 million. This is down from around 3,500 users and $65 million the year before.
A spokesman for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs said the goal of the legislation is to bring both private and public flight programs in parity.
Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.