STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
For the second time recently, the Trump administration appeared to take sides in a debate over veterans. Some veterans borrowed money to attend for-profit colleges, and they say the schools defrauded them, giving little or nothing for the money. A bipartisan bill passed Congress promising debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded, which the president vetoed in May. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing several repeat-offending schools access to money from the federal GI Bill. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The University of Phoenix, an online school that heavily targets veterans for recruitment, has received the most GI Bill money of any school in history. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission extracted $191 million from Phoenix for deceptive advertising. That should have triggered the VA to block the school from GI Bill students, says Carrie Wofford with Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group.
CARRIE WOFFORD: The law says the secretary shall not approve GI Bill enrollment at schools that use deceptive recruiting.
LAWRENCE: Then, just before the July Fourth holiday, the VA announced that Phoenix and three others had done enough to correct their behavior and can enroll GI Bill students again. University of Phoenix put out a statement praising the Trump administration's decision. Wofford says she's disappointed but not surprised.
WOFFORD: It just feels like yet another blow to veterans and students in order to help predatory for-profit colleges that keep getting caught by the federal and state law enforcement breaking the law.
LAWRENCE: The VA said by email that the schools University of Phoenix, Perdoceo Education Corporation, Bellevue University and Temple University have taken adequate corrective measures. That included things like restitution, changes in leadership and cooperation with VA reviews. And VA says it will ensure the schools stay in compliance to prevent future violations. But some veterans say that's not enough.
TASHA BERKHALTER: We always say in the military, you know, you leave no soldier behind. And I definitely feel left behind by my president, by our government.
LAWRENCE: Tasha Berkhalter lost all her GI Bill money and went into debt at ITT Tech in Indiana. When she graduated, she discovered that her four-year degree in criminal justice was worthless, not recognized by employers or other schools. ITT went bankrupt in 2016 after the government banned it from federal student aid following years of complaints. A bipartisan bill would have provided debt forgiveness to vets defrauded by schools like ITT, but President Trump vetoed it in May. Now Berkhalter says she's struggling to feed her family.
BERKHALTER: It definitely is a elephant on your back, you know? I don't have $100,000 to just go pay it off and be done with it. We have four kids. You know, I'm married. Bills don't stop. You know, things happen. Our faith keeps us. We believe in God, and that's kind of just what's keeping us afloat, you know?
LAWRENCE: There is another bipartisan bill in Congress that would change the law and limit for-profit colleges' access to GI Bill dollars. It's unlikely to be signed this year.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News.
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