March 1, 2016
For Immediate Release
Contact: Carrie Wofford
Yale Law School Study Says VA Can – and Should – Deny G.I. Bill Funding to For-Profit Schools That Employ Deceptive Marketing Practices
Contradicts VA Position That It Has No Authority
Washington, D.C. – A new report from the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic found that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) not only has the authority, but also an obligation, to protect student veterans from the deceptive recruiting practices of for-profit colleges. The report rebuts the VA’s claims that it lacks proper authority to take action against these schools and deny them G.I. Bill funds.
“Congress’s mandate is clear,” said Rachel Tuchman, leader of the Yale team. “The VA has the power and obligation to protect veterans against deceptive recruiting but has failed to do so.”
The VA has consistently taken the position that is has no authority to disapprove colleges that have used deceptive recruiting, marketing and advertising practices to enroll veterans into programs that often lead to worthless degrees or professional certificates, no degrees at all or nontransferable credits.
Last summer, when specifically asked by Members of Congress to do more to protect veterans from shoddy, unaccredited programs, the Undersecretary of Benefits for VA wrote a letter to Congress stating the VA lacked the statutory authority to act.
Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic launched its analysis in the fall, on behalf of veterans’ service organizations, partly in response to the VA’s letter, and with the initial expectation that Yale would help veterans’ organizations identify which provision of federal statute needed to be amended by legislation to ensure the VA had ample authority. Instead, in researching the statutes and legislative history, the Clinic team concluded there was no question the VA already has ample statutory authority – as well as an obligation – to protect veterans and disapprove deceptive programs.
“Both the VA and State Approving Agencies (SAAs) have an obligation and the authority to approve, disapprove, and suspend G.I. Bill funds for educational institutions engaged in deceptive recruiting practices,” the report stated. According to the clear federal statutes, “the VA must not approve veterans’ enrollment in courses offered by institutions that use ‘erroneous, deceptive or misleading’ advertising, sales, or enrollment practices. Additionally, the VA and SAAs may disapprove and suspend the use of G.I. Bill funds at educational institutions that utilize such practices.”
The Yale researchers urged the VA to begin using this authority to protect veterans from predatory for-profit colleges.
Veterans advocacy groups praised the study and criticized the VA for sitting on its hands, while veterans were being treated like revenue sources, rather than war heroes.
“If the VA has approved a degree program for GI Bill funds, veterans justifiably expect that the program is worthy of their benefits, their service and sacrifice,” said Matthew Boulay, executive director of the Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund and an Iraq war veteran. “We have a moral obligation to protect our veterans from these erroneous and misleading practices.”
Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success (VES), a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of student veterans, said, “Every day, we help veterans who express frustration and disappointment that the VA puts its stamp of approval on an educational program that was known to be deceiving and defrauding veterans. The veterans we help find out only too late that their college was well known for deceit and fraud. It’s time for the VA to be more judicious with its stamp of approval on fraudulent failure factories. Veterans deserve better protections.”
Over the past year, VES also researched student veteran complaints and state attorneys general lawsuits against for-profits and found that 20 percent of the 300 VA-approved degree programs it examined lacked the proper accreditation needed to meet state licensing requirements or employer expectations. Since the sampling was so small, the organization believes these cases are just the tip of iceberg.
In February, eight state attorneys general drafted a 10-page letter to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald urging him to exercise the VA’s authority under federal law to restore the educational and vocational rehabilitation benefits to thousands of veterans cheated by predatory for-profit schools. “In addition,” they write, “we ask you to ensure that the VA is providing full and accurate information about the risks associated with using benefits at certain schools and that it is supporting the efforts of State Approving Agencies and State Attorneys General to protect veterans.” View the letter here.
To view the full Yale report, please visit here.
About Veterans Education Success
Veterans Education Success (VES) is a veteran advocacy organization whose mission is to advance higher education success for veterans, servicemembers, and military-connected students and to defend the integrity and promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs for veterans and servicemembers. VES offers policy expertise to policymakers and conducts non-partisan research on issues of concern to student veterans, including student outcomes and debt levels. VES also offers free legal services, advice, and college and career counseling to servicemembers, veterans, their survivors, and families using federal education benefits, and helps veterans participate in their democracy by engaging with their Congressional representatives. Additional information is available at www.vetsedsuccess.org.