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Senate Committee Considers Proposed Cap on G.I. Benefits for Flight Training

The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing to consider multiple Veterans Affairs (VA) reform bills–including discussion draft legislation that contains a proposed cap on G.I. benefits for flight training as originally put forth in House Resolution 475 at the request of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Committee Chairman, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), noted that he included the draft bill on the crowded agenda to specifically address the flight training cap proposal.

NASAO along with the Helicopter Association International (HAI), Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) submitted a joint written statement to the Committee highlighting the potential negative impact for veterans utilizing post 9/11 G.I. benefits for flight training. In lieu of the cap, the statement calls for a more sensible approach to control costs through better enforcement of the existing 85/15 rule, which requires 15 percent of student enrollment to be civilian to allow market forces to regulate flight-training prices. In addition, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study is recommended to, among other things; examine the actual aggregate cost of flight training to effectively gain employment as a commercial pilot in the private sector and to explore alternative methods to reduce training expenditures. To view the complete statement click here.

Multiple representatives of the Veterans Administration (VA) were invited to testify on all ten bills on the agenda; however, Chairman Isakson noted that they failed to adequately address the rationale behind the recommended cap on flight training in their remarks. “Let me ask the 64,000 dollar question, said Chairman Isakson. You very casually referred to the discussion draft language with regard to educational assistance-I think you used one sentence. Do you care to elaborate?”

Robert Worley, Director of Education Service for the VA replied, pointing out the increase in payouts for flight training from fiscal years 2013 to 2014 with a total of $42 million for 1700 beneficiaries rising to $80 million for 1900 beneficiaries, but failed to explain that this precipitous increase is mostly attributable to isolated incidents of significant overpayment to a few individuals due to a lack of enforcement of existing cost-control regulations–specifically the 85/15 rule.

“That sounds like a pretty easy rule to enforce, but I read some of the articles in the Los Angeles Times and some other commentaries where it seemed like the enforcement of that rule has varied from school to school,” said Chairman Isakson. When asked if the 85/15 rule was strictly enforced at all flight training institutions in the cases of overpayment. Worley admitted that there have been times in the past where a more ‘lenient application’ of the rule has occurred.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), a strong supporter of general aviation, submitted written remarks that were unanimously adopted into the record, adamantly opposing the proposed cap. “The overwhelming majority of student-veterans who enter these programs and the institutions that provide aviation training are honest actors who play by the rules. The examples of waste and abuse are deplorable but they do not represent all flight training programs and I fear that those who conduct honorable and superior programs are unnecessarily caught in the fray,” said Moran in the statement. “Should this bill be further considered, I will offer amendments to remove offending provisions and should that effort fail I will vigorously oppose this legislation.”

The Committee adjourned without taking formal action on the proposal, and Chairman Isakson ordered the VA to provide a more detailed report on the background and justification for the proposal “within a reasonable period of time.”

“NASAO is encouraged by the Senate Committee’s willingness to take a deliberative approach in examining this important issue and proposed alternatives,” said NASAO Government Relations Manager Mark Kimberling. “We will continue to actively oppose the proposed cap or any other measure that would unfairly limit our veterans’ ability to pursue careers in aviation.”

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