- A bill moving through Congress aims to cut funding for veterans going through flight school
- There’s currently no cap for flight programs conducted in public colleges
- Veterans’ organizations have come out opposing the bill
The Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William ‘Bill’ Mulder (Ret.) Transition Improvement Act of 2018, introduced by Republican Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington, contains a clause that would cut millions of dollars in funding for veteran jobs in aviation.
The bill, which is meant to help veterans transition into civilian careers, contains a subsection that caps funds available to veterans who receive flight training at the same level as a private undergraduate degree. To fly on a passenger commercial airline, pilots need at least 1,500 hours of flight time and must pass a written examination, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The GI Bill was never intended to be a blank check for educational institutions to charge whatever they want, knowing that the taxpayer will cover it,” Arrington told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s why there are already caps on private university tuition. We are applying the same principle from private university tuition and fee caps and closing this loophole for flight schools.”
The requirement for a pilot’s license can often be met in 18 months, a source involved in crafting the bill told TheDCNF, and pilots can condense their GI Bill funding into this period to cover the costs. However, the source did not confirm what kind of pilot’s license he was referring to.
Commercial passenger airline pilots would need to spend roughly 11 percent of that total time period, or 2.64 hours per day without any days off, flying a plane to complete the license requirements.
If a veteran were to exhaust their GI bill funding on the hours required for flight training, he or she would not have funds left over for a bachelor’s degree, the source told TheDCNF.
Yet “airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Under current law, multiple degrees can be fully covered if a veteran attends an in-state institution for both programs. This new law applies the caps even “with respect to a dual major.”
“They are both subject to the cap,” a House Committee on Veterans Affairs staffer told TheDCNF.
The source involved in crafting the bill added: “These people don’t need a bachelor’s degree, they just want to become a pilot.”
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill — which currently provides provisions for veterans who have served after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — veterans can have unlimited public higher education costs covered by the federal government. The move to cut flight funding came after flight students’ costs began to skyrocket under private programs, with one student being charged more than $534,000 for his flight training in 2014, according to an October 2017 Stars and Stripes report.
“We believe that it’s good policy, it’s supported by the major veterans’ organizations,” the source involved in crafting the bill told TheDCNF said. The source provided letters from several veterans’ organizations that supported scaling back the funding for flight programs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs put caps on funding private-school pilot’s licenses to address skyrocketing costs, according to a July 2016 Arizona Republic article. Public school flight programs must be conducted in-house and are not subject to the cap.
The funding limit led to a reduction in spending on flight programs from $79.8 million in 2016 to $48.4 million in 2016, according to testimony from American Legion Assistant Director of Veteran Education and Employment John Kamin. Yet Kamin’s testimony does not acknowledge the bachelor’s degree requirements for commercial passenger airline pilots.
Another veterans’ organization, Veterans Education Success, submitted testimony supporting the bill in October 2017. While the letter cites the importance of lowering costs for flight training, it also states concerns about a veteran’s ability to obtain a bachelor’s degree after he or she gets a pilot’s license.
“Accelerated payments burn through a student’s benefits leaving them without the opportunity to finish a college degree,” the letter said. (RELATED: US Soldier Killed In Afghanistan Was A 32-Year Old Army Ranger)
Other veterans’ organizations objected to the flight school provision in Arrington’s bill.
“Whose idea was it to go down this path, and to do so without transparency as this particular bill was being crafted?” an internal email from American Veterans, or AMVETS, obtained by TheDCNF said.
AMVETS’ chief strategy officer, Sherman Gillums Jr., told TheDCNF: “We are watching this continued attempt to atrophy veterans benefits and employment opportunities for veterans through the sudden, insidious inclusion of section 201 in the 5649 bill without regard for the consequences that will surely follow.”
“This isn’t about the number of veterans that will be impacted,” he continued. “It’s about caring as much about the livelihood of each and every veteran who served our country as much as one cares about scoring political wins. Either Section 201 will be removed and debated, or we’ll know those in Washington, D.C. — who often remain bubble wrapped from the real consequences of their decisions — simply don’t give a damn.”
United States Army Warrant Officers Association Executive Director Jack Du Teil added: “I am very troubled that this bill, which stands to jeopardize thousands of jobs for veterans, was bundled into a bill intended to increase resources to help veterans transition to private sector employment. It seems to contradict the very purpose of the overall bill.”
Du Teil’s organization submitted a letter to both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees opposing the bill.
Brent Foster, who has both a commercial pilot’s license and a bachelor’s degree, said that the funding provided to him by the Post-9/11 GI Bill was crucial to his career.
“I was proud to serve and was incredibility fortunate and appreciative that the most difficult part of aviation training—the funding– was provided by the P911 GI Bill which enabled me to secure a career out of the gate,” Foster told TheDCNF. “I hope my career path remains available to other soldiers or troops of other branches, because if anyone is ready to fill the pilot shortage and deserves a career in aviation, it’s those of us that served in uniform. I am grateful.”
The number of pilots in the U.S. has decreased by 30 percent over the last three decades, MarketWatch reported in July. Meanwhile, demand for flights is expected to double by 2036, according to the International Air Transport Association. The average salary across all types of pilots is nearly $80,000 a year, according to Glassdoor.
The amount of veterans pursuing pilot training is also decreasing, MarketWatch shows. About two-thirds of pilots were veterans in the 1980s, but that’s since dropped to less than one-third. Non-veterans often have to front the full cost of pilot training, which, at private institutions, can cost over $100,000.
The federal government is already pushing more veterans to become pilots with the “Forces to Flyers” program, an initiative looking at ways to encourage more veterans to become commercial passenger airline pilots.
“North America alone will need to hire more than 112,000 pilots by 2035 to keep pace with demand,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said when announcing the initiative in November.
Arrington’s bill was marked up in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday.
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