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VA About To Scrap Ethics Law That Helps Safeguards Veterans From Predatory For-Profit Colleges
An ethics law that prohibits Department of Veterans Affairs employees from receiving money or owning a stake in for-profit colleges that rake in millions in G.I. Bill tuition has “illogical and unintended consequences,” according to VA, which is pushing to suspend the 50-year-old statute.
But veteran advocacy groups say suspending the law would make it easier for the for-profit education industry to exploit its biggest cash cow: veterans.
In a proposal published in the Federal Register on Sept. 14, VA claims that the statute — which, according to The New York Times, was enacted following a string of scandals involving the for-profit education industry — is redundant due to the other conflict-of-interest laws that apply to all federal employees and provide sufficient safeguards.
Critics of the proposal, however, say that the statute provides additional regulations that protect against abuse and provide more transparency.
"The statute is one of many important bipartisan reforms Congress implemented to protect G.I. Bill benefits from waste, fraud, and abuse," William Hubbard, Student Veterans of America's vice president of government affairs, said in an email to Task & Purpose. "A thoughtful and robust public conservation should be had to ensure that the interests of student veterans is the top of the priority list."
Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen listen to military leaders speak during a joint military education seminar at the Henderson Hall portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall May 14, 2014. (Photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Alvin Williams Jr.)Marine photo by Sgt. Alvin Williams Jr.
V.A. argues that, in practice, the statute — 38 U.S.C. 3683 — punishes agency employees “who have not engaged in any real conflict of interest,” and is, therefore, “unjust and detrimental to VA’s ability to serve veterans.” For example, a V.A. doctor who teaches or has ever taught at a for-profit school attended by veterans using G.I. Bill education benefits could be reprimanded under the statute.
"Our response was aimed at easing the concerns of numerous VA employees," Curtis Cashier, a VA spokesman, told The New York Times.
However, as Walter M. Shaub Jr., a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told The New York Times, 38 U.S.C. 3683 allows for waivers to be granted to individual VA employees or even groups of employees. The proposal is set to become law on Oct. 16, at which point waivers would no longer be necessary.
Critics of the VA’s proposal are concerned that suspending the statute would make it possible for high-ranking agency officials to enact policies that benefit for-profit schools in which they have a financial interest. As The New York Times notes, it could also allow for-profit schools to pay VA employees to promote their institutions when advising veterans about their educational benefits.
“There’s no good that can come from allowing colleges to have unseemly financial entanglements with VA employees,” Carrie Wofford, director of Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit advocacy group told The New York Times. “Congress enacted a zero tolerance for financial conflicts of interest for VA employees precisely because Congress uncovered massive fraud by for-profit colleges targeting veterans.”
“Student veterans were already facing an aggressive rollback of their protections under the Trump administration’s Education Department,” Wofford added.
For-profit colleges are specially keen on student veterans because of a law that caps the amount of federal funds they can receive. G.I. Bill money is not counted as federal funds, which incentivizes for-profit colleges to aggressively target veterans for enrollment.
Last month, a report by Reveal News from The Center for Investigative Reporting detailed how the University of Phoenix, a for-profit college, had paid $250,000 to host 89 events at Fort Campbell, an Army garrison on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The university was also allowed to place marketing material across the base, including in official welcoming packets for new soldiers. Reveal also found that the university had paid for similar arrangements with four other large military bases.
For-profit colleges have a staggeringly low graduation rate — 7.3 percent, according to Reveal. However, the for-profit education industry is the largest recipient of taxpayer subsidies under the post-9/11 G.I Bill.
“I am deeply concerned the VA is opening the door for predatory for-profits to take advantage of men and women who have bravely served our country,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, told The New York Times.
The VA proposal will go into effect on Oct. 16 unless the agency “receives a significant adverse comment” by or on that date. No such comments have yet been submitted nor have any public hearings been scheduled.
"Our hope is that VA will heavily consider public feedback on this considered change," Hubbard said.
13 Marines at Camp Pendleton charged with crimes related to smuggling of undocumented immigrants from Mexico
Thirteen Marines have been formally charged for their alleged roles in a human smuggling ring, according to a press release from 1st Marine Division released on Friday.
The Marines face military court proceedings on various charges, from "alleged transporting and/or conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants" to larceny, perjury, distribution of drugs, and failure to obey an order. "They remain innocent until proven guilty," said spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz.
The recruiting commercials for the Army Reserve proclaim "one weekend each month," but the real-life Army Reserve might as well say "hold my beer."
That's because the weekend "recruiting hook" — as it's called in a leaked document compiled by Army personnel for the new chief of staff — reveal that it's, well, kinda bullshit.
When they're not activated or deployed, most reservists and guardsmen spend one weekend a month on duty and two weeks a year training, according to the Army recruiting website. But that claim doesn't seem to square with reality.
"The Army Reserve is cashing in on uncompensated sacrifices of its Soldiers on a scale that must be in the tens of millions of dollars, and that is a violation of trust, stewardship, and the Army Values," one Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, who also complained that his battalion commander "demanded" that he be available at all times, told members of an Army Transition Team earlier this year.
According to an internal Army document, soldiers feel that the service's overwhelming focus on readiness is wearing down the force, and leading some unit leaders to fudge the truth on their unit's readiness.
"Soldiers in all three Army Components assess themselves and their unit as less ready to perform their wartime mission, despite an increased focus on readiness," reads the document, which was put together by the Army Transition Team for new Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and obtained by Task & Purpose. "The drive to attain the highest levels of readiness has led some unit leaders to inaccurately report readiness."
Lt. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, who served as the director of the transition team, said in the document's opening that though the surveys conducted are not scientific, the feedback "is honest and emblematic of the force as a whole taken from seven installations and over 400 respondents."
Those surveyed were asked to weigh in on four questions — one of which being what the Army isn't doing right. One of the themes that emerged from the answers is that "[r]eadiness demands are breaking the force."
The Army thinks China will surpass Russia by 2028. Here is how the service is planning to take them on.
If you've paid even the slightest bit of attention in the last few years, you know that the Pentagon has been zeroing in on the threat that China and Russia pose, and the future battles it anticipates.
The Army has followed suit, pushing to modernize its force to be ready for whatever comes its way. As part of its modernization, the Army adopted the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept, which serves as the Army's main war-fighting doctrine and lays the groundwork for how the force will fight near-peer threats like Russia and China across land, air, sea, cyber, and space.
But in an internal document obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army Transition Team for the new Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, argues that China poses a more immediate threat than Russia, so the Army needs make the Asia-Pacific region its priority while deploying "minimal current conventional forces" in Europe to deter Russia.
In leaked documents, Army family reports waiting weeks to have gas line and roof leaks fixed in on-base housing
As the saying goes, you recruit the soldier, but you retain the family.
And according to internal documents obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army still has substantial work to do in addressing families' concerns.