WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill to restore education benefits for veterans who lost credits when a college shuttered its doors last year has moved one step closer to becoming law.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a GI Bill reform package that includes legislation that would restore the benefits about 7,000 veterans lost when ITT Technical Institute closed last September amid scrutiny of its accreditation and recruiting practices.
The bill, authored by U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, who represents Indiana’s 6th congressional district, including Greenfield, now moves to the U.S. Senate, where it must be approved again before it can become law, said Molly Gillaspie, a spokesperson for Messer.
When ITT Tech closed its doors, many students were able to discharge loans they had sought to pay for courses, but veterans didn’t have the option to recoup their GI Bill benefits so they could start their education over elsewhere. The bill Messer proposes allows veterans to recover the benefits they spent at ITT Tech or other colleges or universities that close.
Many veterans impacted by ITT Tech’s closure have struggled to transfer credits and, in some cases, been forced to start their education over at their own expense if they were near the end of their degree program. Messer’s bill seeks to forge a path forward for veterans to complete degrees they’ve already started.
“Veterans attending ITT Tech got a raw deal, and they deserve better,” Messer said during recent testimony on the bill. “Our servicemen and women count on their GI Bill benefits to help them start a career and build a life after serving our country. The least we can do is make sure they get that chance.”
Jason Nyikos, a U.S. Navy veteran from Greenfield, was nearly two years into a four-year degree studying electrical engineering when the school shut down its 130 campuses across the country.
No college or university would accept the credits he earned at ITT Tech, and he had to make a choice: abandon his education all together or start over, knowing he’d be on the hook for footing the bill to pursue a new degree.
He didn’t know what to do or whom to call, he said.
“I didn’t have anybody to yell and scream at,” he said.
He’s since started a two-year radiology program at Ivy Tech Community College. He knows he’ll need further education to get a good job, so he’s looking at four years of schooling.
Nyikos is thrilled Messer’s bill is receiving support from other lawmakers, he said. He’s optimistic the Senate also will approve the legislation.
Having those education benefits restored would be a huge relief for Nyikos and his wife. It would mean they don’t have to pay for his education out of their own savings as they’re currently planning.
Nyikos’ story is one of thousands like it, Messer said. It’s not fair that veterans have lost the benefits they earned through no fault of their own.
“They deserve better,” Messer said.