Veteran Rebuilds Personal Finances After Blowing $100,000

The U.S. government handed Travis Fugate a $100,000 check in 2006 after he was seriously injured by a bomb explosion in Iraq.

Fugate was 22 at the time and used the money to buy two cars, a boat, a home in the small town in Kentucky where he grew up and “lots of beers for my friends because I needed friends after the war.”

The problem: Fugate is blind. He couldn’t drive the cars, operate the boat or live in the house. An improvised explosive device (IED) blew up in his face two days before he was due to come home from Iraq. He lost one eye in the explosion and is blind in the other.

He burned through the $100,000 compensation he got from the Army in 18 months.

“I wasn’t one of those homeless vets you see on the streets,” Fugate told, “but that’s the direction I was headed.”

That’s when Mike Conklin and a team of volunteers from the Sentinels of Freedom stepped in and changed the direction Fugate was headed. Conklin started the Sentinels of Freedom as a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping severely wounded veterans earn a college degree. The Sentinels have volunteer teams across the country working with vets to help them overcome whatever obstacles they meet in college.

With their help, Fugate expects to graduate from Cal State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) with a computer science degree in 2014. He already has interviewed with companies in Silicon Valley and hopes to get a full-time job there after graduation.

“And I’ve made considerable progress at getting back the money I went through,” Fugate said. “Even after the accident, I was always sure I could do something positive with my life, but I didn’t have a plan and I sort of let that $100,000 get away. But the friendship and mentoring I got from Sentinels turned things around.”

Mentoring Disabled Veterans Makes a Difference

Fugate is one of roughly 40 to 60 severely wounded soldiers that the Sentinels of Freedom mentor around the country. Conklin interviews candidates to determine how serious they are about pursuing a college degree. When he’s convinced of their commitment, he helps them find a suitable college and pairs them with a team of educational, financial and social mentors to guide them through the process.

Fugate admitted he needed help in all three areas. He was the first in his family to attend college, but lasted only one semester before dropping out to join the Army. There was a seven-year gap before going back to school with the help of the Sentinels program.

“I was skeptical about the whole thing,” he said. “I remember when I got out of the Army, they told me to be wary of organizations that try to take advantage of vets, but I knew I was in the right place after my first phone call with [Conklin]. When he says they’re going to do something, they follow through and do it.”

Fugate received his associate’s degree from Monterey Peninsula College in California and went on to CSUMB, but math and science courses at the four-year college posed enormous challenges.

“He obviously can’t see the problems on paper so he has to use his memory to do the problems in his head,” said Karen Hargrove, a Sentinels volunteer who tutors him. “He has learned to do this well, but it takes a lot of patience.”

Filling Gaps in Financial Aid

When he started school, Fugate needed to customize his computer with a special Braille program, but the $4,000 price tag was an obstacle. He might have gotten help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but the paperwork made it a six- to eight-month turnaround. Sentinels stepped in, paid for the program and his computer was ready in a week.

“[Conklin] said he won’t let the cost of anything be an excuse for getting in the way of my education,” Fugate said.

Sentinels assigned him a financial advisor, who not only helped Fugate budget his money, but also renewed his sense of pride.

“I’ve learned to make my money work for me,” Fugate said. “I’ve saved and invested enough so that by the time I graduate, I should be able to put 50 percent down on a house where ever I go to live.”

As for the social aspect, moving from the hills of Kentucky to the sunny California coast is about as dramatic a change as there could be in life. Fugate says it was no problem.

“The social relationships I’ve developed from the Sentinels of Freedom are really what have made the biggest difference,” Fugate said. “All these people have volunteered their time and knowledge toward making me successful and you can really feel that every time we meet. I’ve had the best of everything I need because these people care about me.”

Fugate wants to use his experience to develop computer programs for the blind when he graduates. Sentinels already introduced him to contacts in the software business and living near Silicon Valley makes that dream a bit more accessible.

“I’ve come a long, long way since pretty much throwing away $100,000,” Fugate said. “I would never have been able to do this on my own. Sentinels of Freedom didn’t just lift me up, they pushed me forward.”

Joe Corsino

Resume Website Helps Unemployed Veterans Get a Foot in the Door

Joe Corsino, like a lot of Americans, would see out-of-work veterans gathered in groups in city parks or panhandling with signs on downtown streets or even camping out at interstate underpasses and wonder: How is this possible?

He’d hand them a couple of bucks, try to say something encouraging, then walk away shaking his head, still wondering why men with training, discipline, and team and leadership skills couldn’t find a job.

One day, Corsino decided to ask them. The answer was surprisingly simple: “I need some help getting a foot in the door,” they told him.

Joe Corsino

Joe Corsino

Corsino, a consultant for Apple, knew he had a solution. He created Welcome Home Resumes, a website dedicated to producing easy-to-use, innovative resumes for veterans.

The website asks a few easy questions, formats the answers, has a spot for a photo and includes an audio link so the employer can hear the veteran answer a few questions about the type of job he or she is seeking.

It also has an area that spotlights any medals, ribbons or honors the vet earned during his or her service and an explanation and history of the award. It even includes direct links to the vet’s references, making it easier for Human Resources personnel to verify the accuracy of the resume.

Oh, and the service is free.

“We’re taking resumes to a whole new level,” Corsino said. “We know that people in human resources departments get hundreds of paper resumes and probably don’t have more than a minute or two to spend on each one. We’re going to give them the vet’s qualifications, a face to match with the words and let them hear from the vet.

“For a lot of these guys, who don’t know much about resumes or how to present themselves, I think this is going to be the foot in the door they were looking for.”

Businesses, Government Helping Veterans

Corsino’s service is one of many that have sprung up around the country as businesses and government agencies try to integrate veterans into the civilian work force.

Walmart gained national attention when it recently offered a job to any recent veteran and said it would hire as many as 100,000 vets over the next five years.

That follows an October announcement by General Electric, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Alcoa and the Manufacturing Institute that they would provide training for veterans looking for careers in manufacturing. The program, called “Get Skills to Work,” will provide technical training programs, online resources and an employer toolkit to help vets connect with manufacturing businesses.

State government agencies across the country are taking similar efforts to help soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

In Minnesota, for example, the state sends a group of 50 providers out to meet veterans returning from deployment. The group tries to steer them back to Minnesota for jobs opportunities or interviews. They follow up with each soldier after 30, 60 and 90 days to make sure the transition from military to civilian life is going well.

“Our sole mission is to help these solders find good jobs and get them in contact with Minnesota businesses,” Jim Finley, Minnesota Veterans Employment Services director, told the Fairmont (Minn.) Sentinel.

Kentucky is doing the same thing for veterans who come back and want to go into farming. In Missouri, veteran-owned businesses get preference in procuring state contracts, and San Diego opened a veterans employment office to convince businesses to hire vets.

Unemployment High Among Veterans

There is a good reason for the surge in patriotic hiring: The unemployment rate for veterans spiked at 12.1 percent in 2011 and generally has been 2 points higher than overall unemployment since then. In 2012, the average unemployment rate for veterans was 9.9 percent, while the general population averaged 8.1 percent.

Those numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story. The unemployment rate for veterans 18-24 was as high as 30 percent two years ago, but dipped to 20 percent by the end of 2012. That is the group Corsino is aiming to influence with his new website. He said he researched the project for a year before launching the site in November 2012 and found the frustration level exceptionally high when vets went online looking for help.

“These guys are used to a disciplined environment where people are expected to do their job and mistakes get corrected,” Corsino said. “But when they go online and click on links for job opportunities, the links don’t work or the job already has been filled, and the frustration starts building.’’

Corsino said he tested the site for a few months before launching, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.

“We let 25 guys use it, and every single one of them found a job within six weeks,” Corsino said. “We’re proud of our site and what we’re doing. We check things every day to make sure that the site is live, everything is up to date. We feel like we’re pioneers on this, and we hope that every vet will come on board and let us help them get that foot in the door.”

Corsino is running the site on donations. He has filed for nonprofit status, which is pending. When the nonprofit status is secured, he plans to apply for grants to support the project.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get the vets a resume, find companies with job openings and pair them up,” Corsino said. “Eventually, we want to have a search database that matches them by cities, ZIP codes, types of jobs. We’ll get there, and we’re excited about it. We think there is nothing like this out there.”

Is Walmart Hiring Veterans a Patriotic Play or Corporate Ploy?

With $444 billion in annual revenue, Walmart could be a country. And if it were, it would rank among the largest economies in the world.

But Walmart, admittedly the planet’s biggest retailer, is not a country. Instead, it is in one: ours.

Last week Walmart, a corporation that already employs some 1.4 million of its countrymen, made an announcement that its supporters, including first lady Michelle Obama, cheered as a patriotic gesture to this country, the one that made the Walton family rich. (Heirs to the Walmart fortune have a current net worth of about $90 billion.)

Company CEO Bill Simon said that beginning Memorial Day, Walmart will hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years. Every United States armed forces veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months of his or her active duty can get work in a Walmart store, a Sam’s Club store, at the Bentonville, Ark., corporate headquarters or at one of the company’s many distribution centers.

Walmart critics are not buying into the notion of patriotism.

What they see is a cynical public relations gambit by a company wanting to bolster a corporate reputation that is held in disrepute by many Americans. Why, you ask? Because of:

  • Its many low-paying jobs
  • Its anathema to union organizing or the granting of health benefits to its workers
  • Its overseas buying habits
  • Recent scandals like a bribery investigation in Mexico and a deadly fire at Bangladesh factory that makes clothing for sale at Walmart stores
  • Its status as the country’s major seller of firearms and ammunition.

The debate is an interesting one.  Here are some of the highlights.

What’s Good for Walmart is Good for America

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the military discharges 160,000 active service members and 110,000 National Guard members and reservists every year. An estimated 32,000 of those new civilians will join the ranks of the nearly 1 million already unemployed American vets.

And while the jobs picture for veterans is beginning to look better – the annual unemployment rate for post 9/11 veterans decreased from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent in 2012 – young, male veterans ages 18-24 still have double the unemployment rate of their non-veteran peers. In 2011, one out of every three of them was looking for work.

By making the largest hiring commitment ever for U.S. veterans, by a private concern, Walmart hopes not only to “do what we think is right,” but also to help reverse the “national paralysis” that Simon maintains is keeping America waist-deep in an economic Big Muddy: “We don’t have to win an election, [or] convince Congress to pass a bill. . . . We can simply move forward.”

Simon also recognizes that hiring veterans is a good business decision for his company: “Veterans are leaders with discipline, training and a passion for service.”

So in this rosy scenario, it’s really a win-win for both Walmart and the nation.

The company helps hire the very people who most Americans believe are owed — at the very least — a job when they complete their service to their country. And Walmart in turn will get workers who, because of their respect of hierarchy and procedure and their trained commitment to an organization, tend to fit in well within the company’s highly structured business model.

What’s Good for Walmart is Bad for America

Critics warn not to be fooled by the Walmart’s posturing. By paying an average wage of $11.75 an hour — cashiers average $8.45 and overnight stockers $9.50 — and by offering little job security or health-care or retirement benefits and by changing employees’ work hours and schedules, the company is not offering anyone, including veterans, the kind of jobs that Americans want or need.

In reality, Walmart, because of its enormous size and the fact that most of its goods come from China and other low-wage countries, was instrumental in destroying the very kind of well-paying, benefit-rich, manufacturing jobs that other war-era veterans formerly enjoyed in this country and which helped create and maintain a thriving American middle-class.

Or as one detractor opined: “Walmart is one of the main reasons that these veterans no longer have jobs to come home to.”

And in hiring veterans, Walmart is only looking to protect itself from the kind of recent worker unrest that has given the company a bit of a public relations black eye. (See the Black Friday walk-out of hundreds of its employees.)

Because they already have government provided health insurance, veterans are less likely to trouble corporate brass with unreasonable requests for coverage.

Finally, one shouldn’t forget to follow the money.

In the same bill that Congress passed on New Year’s Day to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, it extended for another year the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors work opportunity tax credits aimed at encouraging businesses to hire unemployed veterans.

For hiring a vet whose family is receiving supplemental nutrition assistance, a company can take a tax credit of $2,400. It can claim the same credit for hiring any veteran on a short-term basis.

For hiring a veteran discharged within the previous year who has a service connected disability, the credit is $4,800. In addition, there is a $5,600 tax credit for hiring a veteran who has been unemployed for an extended period, and a $9,600 tax credit for hiring a service-disabled veteran who has been unemployed for an extended period.

All in all, Walmart has the potential to make $560 million in tax credits for hiring 100,000 vets.

So much for the red, white, and blue, critics cry. It’s really about the green: the company’s need to keep its shareholders and top executives happy by always being in the black.

(By the way, that Walton fortune of $90 billion? It’s greater than the combined wealth of the bottom 40 percent of all American families.)

Is This One a Draw?

The upshot is that nobody is forcing any veteran to work for Walmart. So if one subscribes to the philosophy that any job is better than none at all, then Walmart is clearly providing work opportunities for some needy vets, especially those with scanty job skills who are having trouble finding employment in fields that require more education or training.

However, if you believe Walmart helped hollow out the American middle-class while downgrading the whole country’s economic aspirations, then nothing that it does will ever be seen as anything other than a typically amoral corporate move designed to protect only its own bottom line.

One thing that all can probably agree on is this: In hiring armed service veterans, the company, whose profits have soared recently from a buying frenzy of assault weapons, won’t have to spend a dime training their new salesmen.


trekandshoot /

Veteran Creates Program to Assist Members of Military with GI Bill

Cory Payne doesn’t hesitate when asked what was the most important thing he learned during his career in the Army.

“Take care of your own,” he said emphatically.

That was the motivation for Payne starting the Future Soldier/Sailor Program, an effort to steer his own – youngsters who sign up for military service – down a path to success, preferably by using the GI Bill to earn a college degree.

Payne teaches the free course at Mountwest Community & Technical College in Huntington, W.Va., which was named the nation’s best two-year college for veterans by The Military Times. The program is only 2 years old and is about to be adopted statewide by the West Virginia community college system.

The Army is especially interested in seeing it grow in hopes it will eliminate misconceptions about the GI Bill.

“The biggest lie in the military is the one every recruit tells his mom right after he joins,” Payne said. “They say ‘Momma, I’m going off for a couple of years so I can qualify for the GI Bill and come back and go to college.’

“They go off all right, but not many of them come back and go to college … and if they do, a lot of them get burned out because they do it the hard way.”

That’s firsthand experience talking. Payne told his mom he was leaving for a couple of years when he joined the Army in 1989. He did get a degree, graduating from Marshall University with a master’s in adult education in 2007.

“That’s more than a couple of years later,” Payne said, “and I definitely did it the hard way.”

Familiar Story for Vets

His story is typical of soldiers and sailors. That’s the reason he’s trusted to instruct young recruits on the potholes that could swallow their dreams before they ever get started.

Payne was 15 years into his Army career when he was told he was no longer employable by the military. He was an Army staff sergeant, had 30 people under his command and had served in the Desert Storm and Bosnia conflicts. His primary job was a motor transport operator, “which is a glorified way of saying I drove a truck,” but he liked it.

He was shooting to get at least 20 years, maybe 25, in before retiring when the Army told him he had to leave. Early in his career, he had injured his spine doing drills at Fort Hood. Doctors diagnosed it as a fractured spine, and the situation deteriorated over time.

“It’s kind of hard to drive a truck with a fractured spine,” Payne said. “They declared me medically unfit to serve and told me I had to get out.”

Just like that, Payne was faced with the same question nearly every member of the military dreads: What are you going to do next?

“I wanted to go to college,” he said. “But in all the time I was in the Army, no one ever talked to me about going to school. Not ever. I didn’t get any help from officers, and I sure as hell didn’t get any help from the VA.”

The Army, Payne concluded, wasn’t taking care of its own.

From Homeless to College Graduate

So he said goodbye and went back to his home in Huntington with no real direction. It showed. Within three months, he was divorced, spent time living out of his car and when that got repossessed, he was homeless and on the streets.

He decided it was time to look a little closer at the benefits he had earned serving his country. After quite a bit of reading, he realized that the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, designed to give soldiers with disabilities an employable skill, was a better fit than the GI Bill, which is designed for education.

“I’d never heard of Voc Rehab, but that essentially saved my life,” Payne said. “The Voc Rehab program paid for everything … tuition, fees, books, cost of living allowance … you name it, if I needed it to complete my degree, the program paid for it.”

Payne took maximum advantage of it. He enrolled at Marshall University in Huntington and went to school 12 months a year. He got an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree in three and a half years. This time when he finished, he knew where he was headed.

“When I was in the Army, nobody was there to help me get past all roadblocks they put up to get the benefits I was due,” Payne said. “I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble and heartache if somebody had steered me straight.

“So I decided my job was to go back to what the Army taught me when I started: ‘Take care of your own’… help soldiers get through the frustration of making benefits like the GI Bill work for them.”

Get to Them Early

Payne decided it was best to get to soldiers before they start basic training, rather than wait until they are about to be discharged. Working with Dr. Steven Brown at Mountwest Community & Technical College, he developed a 16-week course that splits instruction time between the military and teachers at the college.

The military instructors go over things like military courtesy, customs, history, time management, rules and fitness. Payne uses his time to teach issues about personal finance, but focuses most of the instruction on getting an education while you’re in the military and getting the most you can from the GI Bill when you get out.

Payne has studied the GI Bill the way lawyers study law books. He shares as much knowledge as recruits are willing to absorb and wants them to stay in touch throughout their military career so he can continue helping them late in their careers as they wander through the maze of regulations.

“The goal of the Future Soldiers/Sailors Program is to keep the notion alive that these kids will go to college,” Payne said. “That’s important because a lot of things can happen along the way that distract them from the goal they told their momma they had when they joined. We want to be sure they do the right things so that when they get out, they’re ready to take advantage of the GI Bill benefits they earned.”

The Future Soldiers/Sailors Program is gaining attention nationally. Payne made a presentation at a national conference in Washington that drew interest from educators at several colleges across the country. He has sent out a 22-slide PowerPoint with details of the program and has already had a response from the University of Montana.  

He is so well-versed on the often-frustrating and incomprehensible nuances of the GI Bill that that he spends part of his day combing various websites to find misinformation they might be spreading. When he sees a glaring wrong or omission, he contacts the site to get it right.

“Just doing what the Army taught me,” Payne said. “Taking care of my own.”

On Veterans Day We Celebrate Both Soldiers and Sales

Christmas is six weeks away, and the country’s marketers and advertisers are standing by, ready to deck the halls, bust out the displays and get the full-page ads in shape for yet another holiday shopping season.

But before the registers start ringing up Black Friday sales, America’s commercial institutions have one more stop to make. No, not Thanksgiving. Nothing to sell there but turkeys and hams.

Today is Veterans Day. What to many of us is a day of respect and recognition and solemnity is in too many ways something else as well: the nation’s newest money-making holiday.

Veterans Day Sales Pitch

Originally called Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the somber event was proclaimed to honor the heroism of those who died in combat during World War I. The day evolved to celebrate the service of all living veterans of the United States military – whether they were in uniform in times of peace or conflict.

Today approximately 23.2 million U.S. citizens fit that demographic, and merchants of all kinds see that number of potential customers as just too big for them to pass up. While years ago the date might have merely provided a background for the odd mattress or new car sale, these days the minions of Madison Avenue rev up their marketing machines to a virtual war-time footing.

After the parades have wound down, America’s stores and restaurants are already geared up:

Friendly’s is offering free breakfast and coffee to vets who still have an early reveille.

Olive Garden has its own special veterans’ menu.

California Pizza Kitchen will serve every veteran a free pizza and drink.

Active duty or military veterans can get a complimentary Bloomin’ Onion and a Coke at his or her neighborhood Outback Steakhouse.

And Brooks Brothers is offering a 25 percent discount on any in-store purchase this weekend for all active-duty and retired military personnel.

Active Military Also Part of Veterans Day Crowd

But American companies are way too savvy to leave themselves open to charges of crass commercialization on a day that is supposed to be dedicated to courage, sacrifice and duty. Woven within the marketers’ calls to arms are charitable events and jobs programs designed to benefit veterans of the country’s most recent military adventures.

Coca-Cola announced that it has hired more than 800 veterans since May. Chase Bank has committed to hire at least 100,000 veterans by 2020 and is planning to give away 1,000 mortgage-free homes to them by 2016.

H.J. Heinz, the ketchup maker, is donating up to $250,000 to the Wounded Warriors Project. The Uno Chicago Grill restaurant has pledged donations to Services for the UnderServed, which assists veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. And Brooks Brothers (again) is donating to the Suits for Soldiers Program.

Perhaps it’s too cynical to claim that all of these retailers are simply interested in making a profit off of yet another national holiday. No doubt there are sincere CEOs who merely want to honor those who served in the military and help make life better for them and their families.

In fact, the employment of veterans – particularly newly minted ones from Iraq and Afghanistan – was an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign and is something the United States must solve, and quickly.

But as Calvin Coolidge once declared, “The business of America is business.”

And if an additional buck or two can be made by waving a little extra red, white and blue on a day that celebrates service to flag and country, any good salesman would say that it’s probably worth fighting for.

40 Republican Senators Shoot Down Veterans Jobs Bill

The 40 Republican senators in Congress love to talk about our veterans.

They call them heroes. They call them brave warriors. They say that they are forever in their thoughts and in their prayers.

They speak about them often and always in reverent tones. They promise that they will always be taken care of when they finally return home from whatever god-forsaken battlefield to which they’ve been sent in order to protect our precious freedoms and American way of life.

Then the 40 senators voted on the $1 billion, Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012 – a fully paid-for, bipartisan piece of legislation that would have put thousands of veterans back to work tending to the country’s federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments.

And when the 40 voted, when they got the chance to walk the walk, they  turned their backs on everything they have said to or about veterans. When 40 Republican members of the U.S. Senate voted to deny help for the heroes and warriors they routinely celebrate on the stump, those veterans became just another collection of casualties in another sort of war.

Politics Trumped Sound Legislation

When the senators voted to block passage of S.3457, it didn’t matter that in this long, drawn out economic downturn the unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan hovers around 11 percent – 3 points higher than the general population. It didn’t matter to these 40 U.S. senators that more than 720,000 veterans are unemployed across the nation, including 220,000 who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001.

For in the dysfunctional, hypocritical quagmire of a battlefield that is the U.S. Senate, scoring partisan political points in the midst of a particularly divisive, bitter, amoral and increasingly profane election season is the overriding strategy of the war. You know, the war that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is waging to make Obama a one-term president.

And a tactic in that war is to never cede any legislative ground to the enemy (better known as the Democratic Party), or allow them any partisan victory. And in the increasingly undemocratic U.S. Senate, 60 votes are now necessary to get anything done. 58-40 just doesn’t cut it.

So even if it’s our veterans that get in the way of doing what the 40 Senators believe they were “sent there to do” – well there is such a thing as collateral damage.

Do Republicans Really Care?

But make no mistake. This is much worse than that.

This is even worse than the recent spate of Americans shot to death by the very Afghan forces they are trying to train in a country that will never be tamed. This is worse, because this time our service men and women were laid low by their own countrymen on their native soil.

This time, 40 senators dropped a bead on thousands and thousands of the very heroes they swore to care for, support and reward. In the pitiful, picayune and puerile battle for political advantage that passes for government in present day America, this time our veterans were shot in the back by unfriendly fire.

Obama, Congress Deride For-Profit Schools’ Preying on Veterans

Responding to complaints from thousands of veterans, Congress, the Obama administration and various veterans groups are condemning some of the practices of for-profit schools and colleges that receive hundreds of millions of dollars in GI Bill education benefits.

Critics say too many for-profit schools provided inadequate yet expensive educations to veterans who are lured into matriculation by misleading advertisements, aggressive marketing, high-pressure sales tactics and predatory recruiting practices.

Since 2009, when the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect, eight of the 10 colleges that collected the most money from the taxpayer supported program were for-profit schools.

The schools earned 86 percent of their revenue from public dollars — mostly from GI Bill payments.

Records show that from 2009 to 2011, the VA paid:

  • $196 million to the University of Phoenix
  • $175 Million to ITT Technical Institute
  • $128 million to DeVry University
  • $50 million to Kaplan University
  • $50 million to The Art Institutes
  • And $28 million to Westwood College.

Taxpayers and Veterans on Losing End

Critics contend that neither the taxpayers, nor the veterans themselves, are getting much bang for their bucks. During those two years, the Veterans Administration paid out $4.4 billion for tuition and fees.

For-profit private schools received 37 percent of the funds but educated just 25 percent of more than one million veterans who applied to use their GI Bill education grants.

In addition, the graduation rate was 28 percent for all students at for-profit private schools, compared to 67 percent at non-profit private schools and 57 percent at public colleges and universities, according to the VA.

Since May, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), has investigated veterans’ complaints against for-profit schools. Among its findings:

  • It costs more than twice as much to educate a veteran at a for-profit school than at a public one – $10,441 versus $4,642, between 2009 and 2011.
  • The two for-profit schools that received the highest GI Bill payments — American Public Education and Bridgepoint Education — earned $133 million and $113 million, respectively, in 2011.
  • For-profit schools spend much more on sales, marketing and advertising than they do on educational support staff.
  • For-profit schools have a loan default rate of 47 percent.

Bills Proposed to Deal with For-Profit Schools

In response, several bills have been offered in Congress. The Military Veterans Education and Reform Act, introduced in the Senate in March, would require schools to disclose graduation and loan default rates to prospective students. It would also require the Pentagon to set up a centralized complaints process to address allegations of fraud. Moreover, a companion bill in the House of Representatives would require for-profit schools to reduce their reliance on GI Bill money.

Another bill, The GI Educational Freedom Act, would require counseling for veterans who use educational benefits and would establish a tracking system to help ensure that schools provide quality educations.

The White House recently accused some for-profit institutions of aggressively recruiting brain damaged veterans, encouraging veterans to take out costly loans, and engaging in misleading enrolling practices at military installations.

In April, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting these types of activities while also requiring the six thousand colleges that receive GI Bill Funds to offer veterans literature outlining what their educations will ultimately cost.

In response, Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities, says that the for-profit schools have been working with Congress and veterans’ organizations “to achieve solutions to the many areas of concern.”

Veterans Struggle as Much as Other Americans when Wrestling Debt

Veterans and active duty service members of the U.S. military and their families are struggling as much as everyone else in America with substantial financial problems in the wake of the Great Recession.

According to recent studies, veterans often face greater difficulties in paying their debts and managing their budgets than their civilian counterparts — more than 25 percent of military families have more than $10,000 in credit card debt as compared to 16 percent of private citizens.

The 2011 unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty over the past decade was 12.1 percent, while at the same time the national rate was 8.9 percent.

Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns were facing a national unemployment rate of 17 percent at the beginning of 2012.
One-third of military families report they have trouble paying their bills, while veterans younger than 30 have monthly expenses that exceed their net income by almost $900.

Citi, one of the world’s largest  global banks, and CredAbility, a nonprofit credit counseling and education agency, are teaming with several veterans’ service organizations, to put together  CredAbility ReConnect – a no-cost online financial education and counseling program created to help current and former service members solve their financial problems and build economic security.

Among the involved veterans organizations are Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN) and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

In announcing the program Citi recognized the financial pressures that confront service men and women and the need for them to develop form financial skills.

CredAbility ReConnect was developed to help these deserving men and women build financial capability and achieve long-term economic security for themselves and their families.

“A serious need exists for a targeted set of financial assistance services [for military men and women],”said Gulf War veteran Mechel Glass, vice president of community outreach for CredAbility.

Credibility ReConnect covers five areas, including:
  • Online courses to help families learn how to manage money when a spouse is deployed to active duty.
  • Information to help ease the financial transition back to civilian life for recently separated military members and for families dealing with the death of a service member.
  • Plans to help users manage their budgets and credit card practices.
  • Debt management and repayment options.
  • Guidance for home buyers and those facing foreclosure proceedings.

The online tools are free and can be customized to the unique needs of service members, veterans, family members and/or survivors.