GREENFIELD – Jason Nyikos was angry, lost and confused when the college he’d been attending for more than a year shuttered its doors unexpectedly last fall.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Nyikos of Greenfield had exhausted 22 months of GI Bill benefits when ITT Technical Institute closed campuses across the country last September amid scrutiny of its accreditation and recruiting practices.

He was left with no degree and a myriad of credits that likely wouldn’t be accepted at other colleges. With only 14 months of benefits remaining, he’d be forced to shell out thousands of dollars to finish his education.

Some 7,000 U.S. veterans were impacted by ITT Tech’s abrupt closure, but a federal bill that went into effect this week reinstates the benefits those veterans lost, forging a path for them to start their education over.

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U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, who represents Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Greenfield, met with members of the veterans community Monday to provide details about the law and the next steps for those who were affected.

Surrounded by community members at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, Messer pointed out that ITT’s closure is just one example; should something similar happen in the future, vets will be protected.

Nyikos, who helped Messer champion the legislation by serving as a spokesman for the cause, stood alongside him Monday. He shared his story with those gathered.

Representatives from Veterans Education Success, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans Upward Bound in Richmond and the IUPUI chapter of Student Veterans of America also attended the roundtable, calling the legislation a landmark win for veterans.

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, also known as the Forever GI Bill, was signed into law by President Donald Trump in August. Tuesday, the bill went into effect, and Messer said his office is working closely with Veterans Affairs to reinstate GI Bill benefits by January so veterans can get back to class before second semesters begin.

The bill benefits veterans impacted by the closures of ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain of colleges based in California that closed in 2015, as well as colleges that close in the future, Messer said.

The VA will notify those who might qualify for benefit restoration and provide instructions on how to make that request, Messer said.

The bill also reforms the GI Bill beyond the school closure provision. Under the Forever GI Bill, time restrictions for using the GI Bill are removed, enabling future eligible recipients to use those benefits throughout their lives, as opposed to the current 15-year timeline. It also creates a pilot program that pays for veterans to take certain  technology courses.

The education benefits, which pay for veterans to pursue higher education, are a leading reason veterans join the military, said Sean Marvin, legal director for Veterans Education Success, a Washington, D.C., organization that works to protect GI Bill promises and other federal education programs for veterans and service members.

The benefits are earned after three years of service in the military, he said.

They can be used at state or private colleges and make higher education affordable for past service members, Marvin said.

He applauded Messer’s work to restore those perks for ITT Tech students, who lost them through no fault of their own.

Messer thanked Nyikos, whose story made its way to Messer’s office last fall and spurred him to action.

“This is an example that in America, your voice can still be heard,” Messer said.

Nyikos said he started reaching out to lawmakers when he learned the credits he had earned at ITT Tech — enough to qualify for an associate’s degree — wouldn’t be accepted at other universities and colleges.

He lost 22 months of benefits, not to mention his time, he said.  Now two years older, he’s not even close to completing his education goals, Nyikos said.

Since ITT Tech’s closure, he’s started classes at Ivy Tech Community College. Without the GI Bill benefits, earning a four-year degree would cost him his own savings, he said.

“To spend two years of my life at a place with nothing to show for it was one of the biggest disappointments,” Nyikos said. “I’m glad these benefits will be restored and that other veterans won’t have to go through this in the future.”

At a glance

The Forever GI Bill:

  • Removes time restrictions for using GI Bill benefits
  • Increases funding for reservists and guardsmen, dependents and surviving spouses
  • Creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take certain advanced technology classes
  • Restores education benefits for veterans who lost them because of a school closure
  • Went into effect Tuesday

Source: Congressman Luke Messer’s office

Want updates?

To stay up to date on the status of education benefit restoration, visit the GI Bill webpage: benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/ForeverGIBill.asp or call the education call center at 1-888-442-4551.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.