Bills would help student veterans hit by ITT Tech closure

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Congress is considering two bills aimed at providing relief for student veterans left stranded by the closures of ITT Technical Institute and some other for-profit colleges.

Last September, the for-profit chain ITT Educational Services shut 14 campuses in the state, nine of which were in Southern California, after the Department of Education banned it from enrolling new students who received federal financial aid. The move followed years of federal investigations into possible financial fraud.

The closures hit veterans in Southern California hard, many of whom lost all or part of their education benefits.

HR 1216, introduced by Rep. Luke Messer (R–Indiana), and HR 2068, introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.),  would let veterans recover any GI Bill money they used to go to ITT Tech or other schools that shut down. Messer's legislation covers closures after Aug. 2016; Takano's measure extends back to 2015.

The bills would also give the student veterans back some time. They have a set period of time in which they can use the education money. Under these measures a vet’s time at ITT Tech would not count against that limit.

Takano's bill would go a bit further; it would restore a vet's housing allowance that was spent while at the school. After ITT Tech closed, school advisors warned of a potential "housing crisis," because the veterans would lose what's known as the Basic Housing Allowance if they were not enrolled.

Because Takano's legislation is retroactive to 2015, it would restore benefits to veterans who attended Corinthian Colleges, which closed that year. Corinthian's closure followed big fines and investigations by the Department of Education. It affected some 10,000 students in California.

For-profit colleges such as ITT Tech often target veterans because of their GI Bill benefits, said William Hubbard, vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, an advocacy network of 1,400 chapters across the U.S. Schools that lose their access to that federal money find it hard to continue operating.

"This leads to student veterans being put out on the street and really being startled in their education pursuits," said Hubbard.

At the time of ITT Tech's closure last September, the California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education issued a notice to veterans saying that there was "no mechanism available to restore" a student's GI Bill eligibility and directed them to contact Veterans Affairs. It also said some students could be eligible to file a claim with the Student Tuition Recovery Fund, a state program for students affected by private school closures.

That still left many veterans in limbo, as schooling was delayed or disrupted.

About 30 percent of ITT Tech’s students nationwide were veterans, but not all received GI Bill tuition and housing benefits. The college enrolled nearly 4,000 students at its 14 California campuses.

A subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs is scheduled to take up Messer's bill next week.

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