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House passes student-veteran protection bill

The American Legion’s longstanding campaign to improve the lot of veterans on campus has been bolstered by the passage of a consumer protection-enhancing bill this week. On Sept. 11, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012.

As the bill’s name suggests, the measure mandates increased transparency and accountability at institutions offering post-secondary education to student veterans. Introduced by House Committee on Veterans Affairs Vice Chairman Gus Bilarakis, the legislation mandates extended counseling prior to school enrollment for veterans and establishes a means of lodging formal complaints by student veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The legislation is designed to dampen the aggressive and misleading recruiting methods reportedly practiced by some for-profit schools targeting military veterans and their GI Bill-provided tuition monies. For instance, it bars the payment of recruiting bounties by institutions that accept GI Bill tuition payments.

In testimony presented to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs earlier this year, American Legion Economic Division Assistant Director Steve Gonzalez laid out the Legion’s position on the bill it helped craft. Gonzalez said, in part, "Contrary to popular belief, transparency is not a vile word, but rather a word and action that will provide enough information that the decision maker(s) can mitigate the adverse effect of potential decisions, in this case, choosing the appropriate post-secondary institution."

Shortly before its national convention convened in Indianapolis in late August, the Legion staged a Veterans on Campus Roundtable that included a lengthy discussion of for-profit schools and their role in veterans education. Roundtable participants included representatives from the University of Phoenix and Colorado Tech, two schools targeted in a scathing report published this summer by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and his staff criticizing the institutional segment for "victimizing" student-veterans. Both schools claimed the Harkin report employed outdated data and skewed the outcome to gain political traction. In fact, on the day the measure passed the House, the University of Phoenix reiterated a public statement of support for the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act.