Stand with veterans instead of predatory for-profit colleges

This fall, hundreds of thousands of veterans are attending college with help from the GI Bill, benefits they earned in their service to our country. First created in the 1940s and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the GI Bill has helped millions of veterans pursue a college degree or vocational training so they can get good jobs here at home and be a part of the middle class. It’s just one of the many ways our country follows through on our solemn obligation to the men and women who were willing to sacrifice everything to defend our rights and freedoms.

As the daughter of a World War II veteran myself, and a voice for hundreds of thousands of veterans in my home state of Washington, I strongly support the enduring legacy of the GI Bill, and I was proud Congress acted last year to expand and modernize the program.

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Critically, last year’s GI Bill update restored the benefits to veterans defrauded by two for-profit college chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech. A number of members of Congress, including myself, fought to make sure this provision was included because sadly, student veterans were a major target of these large and exploitative higher education corporations that used predatory tactics to recruit veterans into their programs.

As a coalition of veteran and military advocates recently wrote, many “service members, their families, and survivors are specifically targeted for fraud and seen ‘as nothing more than dollar signs in uniform’ by predatory colleges.”

That’s unfortunately true — time after time, many for-profit colleges sought out and targeted veterans who then used their hard-earned benefits, not to mention their time and energy, on a worthless program. And that’s if they even were able to finish their coursework. When some for-profit schools abruptly shut their doors, veterans were left without a degree, and their GI Bill benefits used up. These corporations cut and run after receiving up to 100 percent of their revenue and profit from federal funding that taxpayers intended to help students, including our veteran and military-connected students, receive higher education and training.

We should act quickly to restore benefits for all student veterans left in the lurch and stop the predators in the first place. Our country needs strong rules of the road to stop the abuse of service members and veterans, close all loopholes in federal law that allow bad actors to take advantage of students and taxpayers, and ensure every student has a real opportunity to graduate with a meaningful credential that leads to economic security.

That’s why as the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and as a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I was glad to work with the past administration on meaningful efforts to do exactly that.

It’s shameful that now, instead of locking arms with members of Congress and veteran advocates, the Department of Education, under the leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosCourt rules Obama-era student loan regulations must take effect DeVos will no longer seek to delay Obama-era student loan regulations Kavanaugh secures votes needed for Senate confirmation MORE, has gone the opposite route by rolling back Obama-era rules that had put our country on the right path to better protecting veteran students and taxpayers. This deliberate course reversal will re-expose veterans — and all civilian students — to the predatory tactics of for-profit schools. That’s just wrong. Our country and the Trump administration should always put veterans first, especially when it comes to corporations looking to make a buck regardless of who it hurts.

At the same time, the administration is also working to make it more difficult for service members to transfer GI Bill eligibility to family members, which has been an important retention tool for the military, and an option afforded for years of honorable service. The new proposal would unfairly harm those who get married or have children later in their careers and service members who are injured in service. That is why several of my colleagues and I wrote to Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' Joint Chiefs chairman to meet with Saudi counterpart Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' despite 'Democrat' remark MORE asking to put off this change, and why we will continue to fight these unjustified actions.

Similarly, our country should not stand for a recent Trump administration attempt to roll back enforcement of the Military Lending Act, a 2006 law specifically designed to protect service members and their families from predatory lending, financial fraud and interest rate gouging. To date, the law has helped restore hundreds of millions of dollars to service members affected by harmful practices. Going backward would be shameful.

Our country — and Congress — has a lot of work to do to uphold our promise to take care of veterans, and I’m always happy to discuss the best ways we can strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs for the long term and deliver better health care to our military families. But when it comes to standing with veterans and service members instead of predatory for-profit colleges and underhanded financial institutions, there should be no debate.

Murray is the senior senator from Washington and is ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the former chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.