November 11, 2020
Press Conference with Attorney General Becerra
Remarks of Carrie Wofford, President, Veterans Education Success
- Good day. We are pleased to join you today.
- Thank you, Attorney General Becerra. We are grateful for your leadership in standing up for servicemembers and veterans.
- On Veterans Day, America honors the veterans whose service and sacrifice guarantee our freedoms and Democracy.
- Most Americans treat veterans and servicemembers with respect and honor, but too often companies and banks see veterans as “dollar signs in uniform” or easy targets for money.
- Your letter today is very important because servicemembers who are serving in dangerous and hostile fire areas should not be distracted by financial concerns, like being cheated on their interest rates. America needs them to focus on their military mission.
- Your letter matters because we know that 200,000 active duty servicemembers currently owe a collective $2.9 billion in student loan debt.
- We also know that servicemembers are too often denied their legal rights to a low or zero interest rate. For example, in 2015, the US Department of Justice under President Obama secured $60 million from Navient and Sallie Mae (the student loan servicing companies) for wrongfully denying 78,000 servicemembers their legal right to a low interest rate on their student loans under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
- Your letter today is also very much needed because holding Betsy DeVos accountable is critical. Her track record is not great. We ourselves experienced a nearly two-year delay by Betsy DeVos in honoring service-connected disabled veterans’ right to loan relief under the Total & Permanent Disability Discharge.
- For years, we had asked DeVos to honor disabled veterans’ loan rights.
- Finally, in June 2018, we filed a FOIA to the Education Department.
- What did we learn from their FOIA answer? That Betsy DeVos had failed to grant loan relief to disabled veterans who were legally entitled. Even worse, she had put more than half of them in default on those loans!
- We led dozens of veterans organizations in publicly pressing DeVos to stop these wrongful defaults: November 2018 letter. We kept up the pressure.
- In August 2019, CBS News completed filming a segment on our disabled veterans who were wrongly put in default. When CBS News circled back to DeVos to give her one more chance for a response, lo and behold she changed her tune. The White House scrambled and President Trump announced they would finally follow the law.
- That is also an important message for you – news reporters present today. Your work holding government actors accountable has an important impact.
- It’s not over yet as DeVos is still moving too slowly, but we’re holding her accountable: January 2020 letter
- If our experience with disabled veterans is any indication, then, Attorney General Becerra, I would surmise the answer you receive from Secretary DeVos will indeed show she is not following the law. And you are correct that the Defense Department is providing her with the names of eligible servicemembers.
- Your consumer protection alert today is also very important. Army.Com, NavyEnlist.Com, MarinesEnlist.com, and Air-Force.Com all sounded like legitimate websites. But, in fact, they were fronts for predatory for-profit colleges, and they interfered with patriotic Americans’ ability to join the Armed Forces. Com even interfered with America’s military readiness by telling potential servicemembers that the Army did not need them, when in fact the Army is suffering a shortage of volunteers. The US Federal Trade Commission shut them down in 2018 after veterans organizations complained. But that’s a good example of the need for servicemembers and veterans to be alert to potential fraud, and why your consumer alert is so important today.
- I would like to close by thanking Attorney General Becerra for his very important lawsuit to stop Ashford University’s consumer protection violations against veterans and students.
- For too long, predatory for-profit colleges – like Ashford – have exploited servicemembers and veterans and undermined the very integrity of the GI Bill with their waste, fraud, and abuse.
- In the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra proves that Ashford violated the state’s consumer protection laws by making false promises and furnishing faulty information to students to persuade them to enroll. It also used illegal debt collection practices when students struggled to pay their bills. A key finding by Attorney General Becerra was Ashford’s own internal audit finding rampant deceptions by its recruiters and no mechanisms in place to stop the lies.
- Becerra, you may not know, but our whistleblower from Ashford joined you at your press conference announcing that lawsuit.
- So I thank you for your letter today, your consumer protection alert today, and for your long commitment to protecting veterans and servicemembers’ legal rights.