Congressional hearings on the Hill continue to vilify for-profit universities and jeopardize how veteran students, like myself, can leverage our GI bill benefits, which is why I feel compelled to speak out.

It is time for our leaders to stand up for student veterans everywhere and respect their pursuit of education using their hard-earned benefits, no matter what type of college or educational institution they choose. I believe this not just because I am a student veteran, but because my career has been defined by serving both my country and my fellow servicemembers and veterans, and I know how important education is to these men and women.

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I am honored to have served in the United States military since 2010, and to continue to serve to this day. I am a proud life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) having served in combat under hostile fire. I have held an education policy position with VFW and am now with the Enlisted Association of the National Guard (EANGUS). I have lived and breathed many of the most difficult issues that our nation’s veterans grapple with, and that is why I believe we must press policymakers not to restrict the choices in education that so many of us depend on to advance in our lives. No matter what school they are interested in, whether for-profit or nonprofit, public or private, veterans must be free to choose the institutions that best fit their lives and needs.

Too often I have seen partisan politics play out on the backs of American troops: in debating which wars are fought, whether PTSD should be considered a medical condition, and now which schools should be maligned. To be clear, there are indeed schools out there that employ predatory practices like price gouging, false marketing, and inaccurate employment prospects. But these practices exist across every sector of higher education, and I believe in holding all these institutions accountable.

However, under the guise of protecting veterans, some veteran groups are targeting institutions based purely on their tax-status and ignoring holding other colleges to the same standards despite poor outcomes. Why are we, as a community of veterans and advocates, slandering an entire sector of education without any regard for the actual outcomes?

Sadly, in far too many instances, the answer is politics. There is a dangerous trend in much of our current political debate aimed at portraying nearly all for-profit endeavors as inherently evil and predatory. Why are we as a nation ignoring the great number of underperforming public institutions, and not holding state-funded schools accountable for their spending practices? There are many public colleges that have graduation rates far below the national average. As Congress moves to shape a comprehensive, bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965, we must fight for increased oversight and transparency for all colleges across all sectors, because our veterans attend them all.

I know firsthand that the men and women who serve or have served in our nation’s military are more than capable of choosing the school that is right for them. As a country, we need to stop perpetuating the demeaning idea that we are “broken” or in need of special guidance and protection. Restricting where and how veterans use our earned benefits disrespects the sacrifice and effort we made to earn it. While some argue that GI Bill benefits are government subsidies and should be counted as such, this is simply wrong and those of us who put our life on the line for our country know this mischaracterization could jeopardize these essential benefits in the future.

Student veterans choose to go to schools that are committed to serving their unique needs: institutions like the University of Maryland, which offers comprehensive, adaptive programming and paid internships specifically tailored for veterans; the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School, which has specialists on staff that help the student veteran navigate their military benefits; Monroe College, which is committed to serving those that have limited resources and sponsoring a vibrant veteran community on campus; and Norwich University, which grants credits to veterans for their military training and experience. Student veterans do not choose schools based on a school’s tax-status, but on the institution’s ability to serve them best. Disparaging an entire sector of higher education demeans the hard work student veterans put in each day to better themselves and earn a degree. 

Daniel Elkins is the Legislative Director of EANGUS, the only group organized to specifically represent the interests of the enlisted men and women of the National Guard since 1972, as well as a proudly serving Green Beret.