Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Congress is robbing veterans of the educational benefits they were promised

As a veteran, retired military and airline pilot I am deeply concerned by HR 3016 (the Veterans Employment, Education, and Healthcare Improvement Act) which will break promises that the United States of America has made to its veterans.

This bill will cause immediate and alarming changes to collegiate flight training degree benefits for our nation’s military veterans. It arbitrarily discriminates against veterans seeking a flight-training degree from public institutions of higher learning because it caps funding only for these degree programs. Other courses of study are not capped.

Without personal financial resources, a veteran would be unable to attain an aeronautical college degree with a commercial pilot license under the proposed cap of $20,235 on flight training for tuition and fee payments at public schools.

It is clear that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a long-standing systemic nationwide breakdown within the agency caused by mismanagement, infighting, and alleged corruption. There is absolutely no excuse or reason for using HR 3016 to punish veterans for bureaucratic and political incompetence and corruption in the VA and Congress.

I certainly understand and support the need for improved fiscal responsibility and strongly support a tightening of existing VA regulations to curb abuses that have occurred in recent years by a minority of flight schools affiliated with collegiate degree programs. However, capping education and training for pilots will harm veterans and limit their employment opportunities in the aviation industry.

It is important to remember three things:
1 - The GI Bill education benefits are an important recruiting tool for the Armed Forces.
2 - Veterans who use their educational benefits to qualify for a career in aviation will be moving into high-tax-paying jobs. Surely that investment is far more prudent than food stamps for able-bodied adult who refuse to find meaningful jobs.
3 - The high cost of preparing for a career in aviation is a direct result of congressional and FAA overreaction -- imposing an arbitrary minimum of 1,500 flying hours – up from 250 hours – before one can sit in the cockpit of a regional jet as a first officer. Helping veterans reach that 1,500-hour milestone is a small way that Congress can redeem itself.

HR 3016 is an egregious disservice to our nation’s veterans, will exacerbate the deteriorating pool of commercial pilots — thereby accelerating the pilot shortage in this country — and will have a lasting detrimental effect on commercial aviation in the United States. Therefore, I urge you to reject HR 3016 in its current form.

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