The American Legion expressed its concern at a congressional hearing about many student veterans being shortchanged by the GI Bill Improvement Act of 2010, and also condemned "fraudulent individuals" who misrepresent their businesses as service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).
Robert Madden, assistant director of the Legion's Economic Division, testified May 3 on the two issues before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, chaired by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
The Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., would "temporarily preserve higher rates for tuition and fees for programs of education at non-public institutions of higher learning." These rates were capped for student veterans at $17,500 per academic year by the GI Bill Improvement Act, leaving many student veterans with higher out-of-pocket costs for the schools they are attending.
The American Legion welcomes the spirit of Miller's bill (H.R. 1383), but it wants the provisions extended to include student veterans attending out-of-state public institutions. Madden told the subcommittee that the $17,500 tuition cap had "unintended consequences that need to be addressed through legislative changes."
While Miller's bill helps student veterans already enrolled in private institutions, "We also need to address the out-of-state student veterans who are attending public school, but will now fall under this $17,500 cap and will be called upon to pay additional costs," Madden said.
In addition to restoring higher tuition rates to all current student veterans, Madden said in his written testimony The American Legion wants Congress to add "interval pay to include those months when veterans are between semesters, yet in need of the housing allowance to meet their financial responsibilities."
Another piece of legislation, H.R. 1657, was introduced by Stutzman to revise enforcement penalties for misrepresentation of small business concerns as being owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans.
"The minimal oversight and protection for SDVOSBs needs to come to an end," Madden said. "Time after time, federal agencies are allowing fraudulent individuals to gain contracts intended for an SDVOSB."
In a 2009 report, the Government Accountability Office estimated that more than $100 million had been awarded to firms that fraudulently claimed SDVOSB status. GAO said "significant control weaknesses" allowed ineligible firms "to receive millions in SDVOSB contracts."
The American Legion also supports H.R. 802, a bill directing the secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a VetStar Award Program to recognize the contributions of businesses in hiring veterans.
The subcommittee is also considering draft legislation on the extension of adaptive housing assistance for disabled veterans. "This aid cannot be allowed to sunset," Madden said. "The extension to this aid is needed and supported by the Legion."