Don't Play Politics With Student Veterans

A nonpartisan study is needed before the federal government makes any sweeping policy changes that would affect student veterans' benefits, writes Daniel Elkins.

November 5, 2019
 
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Since 2010, I have served in the United States military in the National Guard. I am a proud life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, known as EANGUS, and have served in combat under hostile fire as a Green Beret. For the last five years, I have also advocated for my fellow veterans as the legislative director for EANGUS. I live and breathe veterans’ rights because, as a service member myself, it is personal.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2018 the Department of Veterans Affairs paid out over $10 billion in education benefits to student veterans and institutions of higher education. This substantial amount of money has placed veterans' education benefits at the center of policy discussions with significant controversy.

At EANGUS, I have advocated for student veterans to ensure they get the compensation they deserve for the heroic duties they have performed for our country, but unfortunately the bureaucrats in D.C. don’t always make it easy.

From the Department of Defense restricting how troops can transfer their GI Bill Benefits to their families, to the VA restricting how many veterans can go to a school, to politicians considering vast changes to laws without figuring out the implications they might have on veterans, I have my work cut out for me. With the stakes this high, we can’t afford to play politics with student veterans’ benefits. Fortunately, a few simple, common-sense solutions would greatly help student veterans and their families.

Whenever Congress decides to make a change in policy, it should be driven by data. The military has taught me to take great caution before engaging in kinetic activity. To avoid unacceptable collateral damage, we require dual-source verification of intelligence before taking lethal action.

Similarly, before policy changes that could disrupt significant portions of higher education and displace tens of thousands of student veterans are implemented, all the facts need to be considered. For example, the 90-10 rule is a regulation that determines how some colleges receive their funding, and some would like to see it changed in a way that would directly impact student veterans. Though well intentioned, the impact of changing this rule and the potential collateral damage it might have has not been sufficiently studied.

Therefore, I agree with EANGUS’s deeply held conviction that before any legislation is passed on changing the 90-10 rule, the government needs to commission and complete a study on what the impact could be to student veterans and how higher education as a whole might be affected. A nonpartisan study like this is vital and should be a prerequisite to making any sweeping policy changes that could displace thousands of students.

Another common-sense idea that EANGUS has been working to bring to reality is a more robust GI Bill comparison tool. The current comparison tool lacks necessary data that track the amount of GI Bill dollars institutions are receiving at the programmatic level, and it has no outcome metrics disaggregated for veterans by degree.

With many veterans attending various programs at an institution, the institutional graduation rate is not enough. Veterans want to know information regarding their program, not their institution. Many programs perform differently and have different learning rates. Highlighting these differences will allow policy makers and students to make better decisions when thinking about higher education.

We would like to see the graduation rate, repayment rate and employment rate of student veterans at every program disaggregated at every institution in America. If the ongoing policy discussion regarding tax status -- i.e. for-profit, nonprofit, public versus private -- is going to continue, we need actual facts to make informed policy decisions, not speculation and dated stories. It is only from this level of transparency that our troops can make informed decisions on how to plot the course of their educational careers for themselves and their families.

Furthermore, we believe the GI Bill is something that every service member had to earn. When benefits are earned, we should strive to make it as easy as possible for veterans to use them. Many grants or government subsidies often have restrictions, qualifiers or conditions on how they are used; policies that place these types of restrictions on veteran benefits aren’t recognizing the sacrifices veterans made to earn them. Most of our troops do not come from generational wealth, and their GI Bill may be one of the few things they have to give to their family. It is disrespectful to everything service members do for our country to restrict how they decide to use the benefits they earned with their blood, sweat and tears.

In service, we embody the One Team, One Fight mind-set. Unfortunately, in D.C. this is not always the case, and the type of cooperation and camaraderie I experience while in uniform is not currently at work on the Hill. Common-sense ideas that support our troops are not Republican or Democratic; they are American. If there is any hope for a better future for veterans and higher education, we must listen to each other, work together and join forces like we do on the front lines.

Bio

Daniel Elkins is a Green Beret and the legislative director of EANGUS, the only group organized to specifically represent the interests of the enlisted men and women of the National Guard since 1972.

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