American Legion National Veterans Education and Employment Division Assistant Director John Kamin testifies before Congress.

Legion testifies on GI Bill apprenticeship program, costs for flight schools

American Legion National Veterans Education and Employment Division Assistant Director John Kamin testified before the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on Oct. 11 about improving the GI Bill apprenticeship program and stabilizing costs for flight schools.

Before addressing the GI Bill apprenticeship program and costs for flight schools, Kamin began his testimony with House Resolution 3949, the Veterans Administration Legislative and Objective Review (VALOR) Act. He said this bill would streamline approval for organizations with multi-state apprenticeship programs.

“Under current law, apprenticeship programs must be approved by all of the State Approving Agencies (SSAs) they are operating in to be deemed eligible for GI Bill use,” Kamin said. “Companies and organizations operating in multiple states have to submit multiple applications for approval that are subject to different interpretations. By designating a headquarters-based SAA as the approving authority for all states, this process can be streamlined.”

According to a 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Kamin said it recommended the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) improve outreach, ease administrative challenges and establish outcome measures for its on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

However, after discussing apprenticeship with stakeholders across industries, Kamin said it became clear that the need for administrative reform far outweighs any concerns with outreach.

“For apprenticeships, the VA uses fax machines to hand process each approval through regional offices. In addition to the administrative burden faced by staff, the effect on veterans enrolled is also clear with a greater rate of late payments,” he said. “Fixing these problems will not be easy. But make no mistake – there is vast and unmeasurable potential in the apprenticeship program for both veterans and the country. The American Legion believes it is high time that we bring this program into the 21st century.”

Stabilizing costs for flight schools

In 2015, Kamin said the Los Angeles Times reported that some institutions of higher learning were charging inflated costs for flight fees, thereby taking advantage of a loophole on tuition for public school flight programs. Since that time, increased oversight from VA has resulted in lowered overall expenditures, from nearly $80 million in 2014, to $48 million in 2016, Kamin said.

“The draft bill proposed would set flight caps at the tuition rate for private schools which are currently set at $22,850,” he said. “Now some may ask why veteran groups would consider legislation that appears to lower the generosity of the GI Bill. The answer is this: the GI Bill would be ruined if we forego our responsibility to ensure that it’s an honorable investment of public dollars.

“It was this committee that, in 1952, rolled back GI Bill benefits for Korean veterans because the original GI Bill was denounced as ‘open season’ on the U.S. Treasury. GAO attorneys shared that two-thirds of schools overcharged the government to provide support on this. It is this type of history that informs the discussion of flight schools for us.”

Kamin said legislation that caps the maximum GI Bill amount, per year, for flight schools would discourage one’s pursuit of this vocation, as veterans and servicemembers would incur greater debt.

“This draft legislation takes into account with language authorizing the use of additional months of eligibility to pay remaining tuition and fees,” Kamin said. “In order to support, The American Legion demands that all cost savings projected by this measure be returned to VA education programs. Absent this, and with no resolution addressing the provisions of the legislation, the Legion will continue to work with both this committee and our membership to determine what course of action would best serve veterans.”

GI Bill apprenticeship program

During a follow-up question-and-answer session, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Kamin what the Legion thinks is the best way for Congress to go about fixing a flawed GI Bill apprenticeship program.

“To elaborate on that, I’ll go back to the original GAO report. When you go through the details, there are a couple of numbers and surveys that stand out which listed that 11 out of 15 employers said the process was burdensome and inefficient,” Kamin said. “When they surveyed the students, they said 66 out of 156 veterans received their benefits late.”

Using a real-life situation as an example, Kamin said he spoke to an employer who had more than 500 veteran apprentices and asked her about late payments. She told him that due to the system being outside of VA-ONCE, they had an average of about 10 payments per month that were reported as late.

After hearing the troubling news, Kamin was very upset to learn that monthly payments cannot be reported as late until they are more than 30 days old. He said that when he was a veteran student in college, his Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments came within the first three days of the month which he used to pay rent.

Kamin said veterans using the GI Bill for an apprenticeship program don’t have close to that.

“If I’m a veteran going into an apprenticeship program and I’m trying to match up my GI Bill payment with rent, I’m going to be put in a tough situation under the current system. That all goes back to the fact that it still runs on paper,” he said. “When we hear that as the problem or hold up for benefits, it is an issue that needs to be looked at.”

Before outreach and outcome measures can be conducted, Kamin said administrative challenges must be eased as no amount of marketing or salesmanship can fix a flawed program.

In terms of recommending solutions, Kamin told Banks that one could involve incorporating apprenticeships into the VA-ONCE system.

“We’re still exploring the solutions and still talking to employers about what exactly these solutions could be,” Kamin said.

“I do think that we have to stay within the bounds of what’s sustainable,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. “I appreciate that history from The American Legion about the World War II GI Bill and the questions that arose afterward. That was very instructive.”