If the Veterans Affairs Department approves a school for GI Bill funding, does that mean it’s a good school?

The answer should be yes, said Tanya Ang, policy and outreach director for the nonprofit Veterans Education Success, but it isn’t.

“Because of the way certain laws stand now, that’s not always the case, and so that’s something that we’re working on to protect,” she said.

Rebootcamp Recommendations

Ang, whose organization provides free legal and counseling services to veterans and family members who have been defrauded by schools, moderated a session on the Post-9/11 GI Bill at Student Veterans of America’s National Conference Thursday. The session, “Defending the GI Bill, Leading for Tomorrow,” shared how federal, state and nonprofits work together to protect veterans from “predatory schools.”

State approving agencies, which must give their approval before the federal Department of Veterans Affairs signs off on schools, cannot reject schools because they are for-profit, said Joe Wescott, a panelist representing the National Association of State Approving Agencies. Nor can they turn schools away because of their recruitment practices, he said, invoking a common complaint against the for-profit college industry.

“But I can sure make it hard for them,” he said.

He described state approving agencies as “gatekeepers of quality” and “engineers of excellence,” adding, “We’re very serious about you getting what’s due you and quality education.”

As Military Times has reported previously, half of the top 10 schools educating GI Bill users in fiscal 2016 were for-profits, including the No. 1 most common veteran destination, University of Phoenix, according to our analysis of federal data.

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, a trade group representing for-profit schools, said in a recent interview that these schools are attractive to military students for various reasons. For one thing, many offer a slew of online programs, including majors in military-related fields, which come with more flexibility than brick-and-mortar class schedules.

“What we offer that the others do not is we offer a set of very focused career education programs in a way that is accelerated to help a student, let’s say, move from the military into the workplace as fast as they possibly can,” Gunderson said.

But panelist Sean Marvin, legal director for the Veterans Education Success, has said previously that a number of for-profit schools target veterans because of their education benefits.

Though federal law states that for-profit colleges must not receive more than 90 percent of their funding from federal student loans and grants, some schools take advantage of an exception that considers GI Bill funds as private dollars, Marvin said.

Panelists said they need veterans’ help to let their respective organizations identify “bad actors,” even as they hope for stricter regulations.

“We don’t know who to fight unless the veterans tell us,” said Anthony Camilli of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who said the CFPB is “suing the hell out of” for-profit schools like ITT Technical Institute. The now-defunct for-profit chain of colleges shut down in 2016, leaving thousands of veteran students with credits that, in many cases, wouldn’t transfer.

Students should make sure their complaints are seen by the VA, Camilli said — not just school- or state-level representatives.

“Every complaint you submit impacts the marketplace,” he said. “In some ways when you submit a complaint, you’re not only taking care of you but also paying it forward to your brothers and sisters, because if school is bad for veterans, the VA can do something about it.”