Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is pressing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to restore the benefits of student veterans who have been defrauded by "deceptive for-profit schools."
Madigan, along with the state attorney generals of California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald demanding that the VA restore education benefits to vets who attended expensive and unaccredited schools, like the now-shuttered Everest College, which had six locations in Illinois that were operated by Corinthians Colleges, Inc.
The attorney generals argue that the students were recruited to the schools under the false pretense of getting jobs in their desired field upon graduation. The student vets later found that "their degrees or credit hours were worthless and not recognized by employers or other higher education institutions." Oftentimes, the student vets did not learn of the true value of their educational endeavors at the schools in question until they had already maxed out their benefits.
"Veterans earn educational benefits through their heroic service to our country," Madigan said. "They should not return home and become targets of predatory, bogus colleges whose only interest in our veterans is to profit off them. It's critical that our tax dollars allow student veterans to get a true education and the opportunities it provides."
In addition to requiring that the VA to educate vets about the dangers of enrolling in "misleading for-profit schools," the attorney generals also suggested that Veterans Affairs address the issue in the following ways:
- Exercising current federal statutory authority to provide relief to these veterans. In cases where the VA has authorized the use of benefits contrary to its own governing statutes and regulations, federal law (38 U.S.C. SS503) provides the VA discretion to offer equitable relief that would give back to the veterans full eligibility and entitlement to their benefits that they have lost from the schools' conduct. Restoring these benefits would allow the veterans to obtain an education that will help them advance their careers.
- Triggering Automatic Reviews. The VA should establish that a review to exercise this discretion will automatically take place in any of the following cases: (1) when the U.S. Department of Education, a state regulatory agency, or a state attorney general takes a regulatory or enforcement action against a school; (2) when a court enters a judgment against a school, or (3) upon application by a veteran or a group of veterans alleging that an education program or college has utilized advertising, sales, or enrollment practices which are erroneous, deceptive, or misleading.
- Taking Proactive Steps To Provide Full and Accurate Information. The VA should take proactive steps to guarantee that veterans will be furnished full and accurate information about their education options to prevent them from enrolling in schools that employ aggressive and misleading marketing practices.
- Increasing Cooperation. The VA should continue and increase its support of efforts of state regulatory agencies and attorneys general in protecting veterans from misconduct.