GI Bill changes

Connor Johnson, Staff Writer

Changes being considered to the GI Bill would leave veteran aviation students tight on funding, if the bill creating them is passed into law.

Congressional bill H.R. 3014, or the Veterans Employment, Education, and Healthcare Improvement Act, takes inspiration from several previous bills. H.R. 3014 and the previous bills pulled upon, H.R. 475 and 476, were sponsored by Representative Brad R. Wenstrup, a Republican of Ohio. Among other actions, H.R. 3014 would reduce the already-lean flight training funding, to about $20,000 per year per student.  This funding is also non-transferable to other flight operations.

GI flight training funds have been non-transferable for nearly two years at the University of North Dakota, according to Jessica Reule, the university’s Veteran and Nontraditional Student Coordinator.  Reule mentioned how in the past, other flight schools had given veteran students a choice on which aircraft to train on, from general trainers to more expensive advanced planes.

“What was happening,” said Reule, “that students were choosing the more expensive, more specialized aircraft, causing the fees to be much larger for that aircraft.”

Several of the schools involved were eventually shut down, but the damage was done.

Other schools may just be having their legislation changed, as the Veteran Affairs audits each school once every three years, with UND being audited several years prior.

One of the issues with the funding, according to helicopter flight instructor Max Kaulhamer, is the inflexibility created by the legislation. The GI Bill covers only the bare minimum number of hours required for students to receive certification, which many students end up going over. To complicate the matter, at UND, commercial aviation courses can allocate different numbers of hours, which the GI Bill funding can’t calculate.

“The VA doesn’t understand flexibility,” said Kaulhamer.

As of February 2016, H.R. 3016 passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and is currently being reviewed by the Committee of Veteran Affairs in the Senate; it’s entirely possible the bill could never resurface.

Even without the extra changes, though, aviation students have felt the strain of flight funding.

“I went three thousand dollars into debt trying to get my private pilot’s license,” Marine veteran Matt Eidson said, “it’s the reason why I’m not in aviation anymore.”

Veterans are eligible for many scholarships and financial aid programs offered by UND in general as well the John D. Odegard School of Atmospheric Sciences, and Kaulhamer encourages them to apply.

Connor Johnson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]