The National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) was among seven general aviation associations to send a joint letter asking Congress to stop legislation that would curtail funding for flight training for veterans.
In the May 19 letter to leaders of the Veterans Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, the groups urged lawmakers to halt H.R. 476, the GI Bill Education Quality Enhancement Act of 2015, which was scheduled to undergo a final markup by the committee on May 21. (See text from letter below)
The legislation “discriminates against veterans seeking a flight-training degree from public institutions of higher learning because it caps funding only for these degree programs. Other courses of study are not capped,” the letter said.
The legislation would cap annual benefits for veterans in collegiate flight training programs at $20,980—not enough for them to earn a commercial pilot certificate and necessary ratings as part of a college degree program.
Joining NASAO in signing the letter were the leaders of Helicopter Association International (HAI), the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).
AOPA President Mark Baker said they want to give veterans the opportunity to become professional aviators. “We support efforts to prevent waste and fraud, but this legislation has the potential to do more harm than good. There are better ways to ensure that VA education dollars are well spent and that our veterans get the educational opportunities they have earned through their service to our country.”
The legislation was proposed after it was revealed that a small number of flight schools were charging veterans using their GI Bill benefits excessive fees for training. In their letter, the general aviation groups suggest better oversight and enforcement of existing Veterans Administration (VA) rules would have prevented the abuses.
Instead of passing H.R. 476, the groups recommend a series of alternatives, including allowing the VA’s renewed emphasis on enforcing its own rules to play out, treating all college degree programs at public institutions equally, encouraging the use of flight simulator training when appropriate, enforcing an approved FAA Training Course Outline and advocating for a GAO study on the costs and requirements for veterans to obtain employable status as pilots.
May 19, 2015
The Honorable Jeff Miller The Honorable Corrine Brown
Chairman, Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member, Veterans Affairs Committee
335 Cannon House Office Building 333 Cannon House Office Building
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Brown:
We, the undersigned organizations, wish to express our significant concern about promises that
the United States of America has made to its veterans that will be broken if H.R. 476 is passed.
The bill, which moves to final markup at the next Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on
Thursday, May 21, 2015, will cause immediate and alarming changes to collegiate flight-training
degree benefits for our nation’s military veterans.
We believe H.R. 476 should be excluded from the package of bills under consideration by the
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. It discriminates against veterans seeking a flight-training
degree from public institutions of higher learning because it caps funding only for these degree
programs. Other courses of study are not capped.
Numerous investigations in recent months by the inspector general (IG) of the Veterans
Administration (VA) have revealed a systemic nationwide breakdown within the agency caused by
mismanagement, infighting, and alleged corruption.
H.R. 476 is one of the legislative measures that purports to target and rein in excessive spending,
yet the direction this bill has taken appears misguided and will do more harm than good. The
bill appears to have originated within the VA as an attempt to rectify the agency’s own past
A considerable amount of anxiety has arisen among veterans because of H.R. 476’s uncertain
impact. All of our organizations have received calls and letters from veterans across the nation,
and it is worth noting that more than 11,000 communications on the issue have reportedly been
directed to Congress in the past 60 days.
Our organizations have engaged in discussions over the past three months with staff for the
Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, providing extensive financial data on
the cost of flight training and offering legislative alternatives. The subcommittee staff have given
generously of their time. However, we do not believe veteran or industry concerns, as well as the
alternatives, financial data, and analysis offered, have received the consideration warranted.
The subcommittee envisages a two-year grandfather clause to protect veterans currently enrolled
in flight-training degree programs for two years, but such a provision will not address the
immediate needs of students already accepted and/or enrolled at colleges that the VA has very
recently disallowed from continuing or enrolling new veterans because of eleventh-hour changes
to enrollment requirements.
Without personal financial resources, a veteran would be unable to attain an aeronautical college
degree with a commercial pilot license under the $20,980 per year cap proposed under H.R.
476. Sufficient student lending for flight training is unavailable. Flight training does not qualify
for a federally backed student loan and therefore is treated by most financial institutions as an
unsecured loan at interest rates often exceeding 12 percent.
It is noteworthy that the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs have stepped up
their oversight of the VA and its IG office as a result of continued problems. Approximately
250 U.S. collegiate flight programs have been audited in recent months, and as of last week,
authorization to enroll or certify enrollment certifications for VA students has been curtailed
at 39 colleges offering flight training. Based upon information provided to us, VA audits have
not been conducted on a consistent basis and rules vary widely from region to region. Not all
aeronautical degree programs are treated the same, the formulas for how 85/15 calculations are
derived have changed, and the VA has made arbitrary rule changes, while admitting their own
regulations are not completely clear.
We certainly understand the need for improved fiscal responsibility and strongly support a
tightening of existing VA regulations to curb abuses that have occurred in recent years by a
minority of flight schools affiliated with collegiate degree programs. We wholeheartedly agree
with the subcommittee’s goal to strike a balance and control excessive costs. However, capping
education and training for pilots will harm veterans and limit their employment opportunities in
the aviation industry.
It is our belief that the abuses that occurred could have been prevented had the VA enforced its
own existing 85/15 regulation, which has long been in place. We urge you to pause and reflect
upon the impact H.R. 476 will have and to refocus legislative reform on VA enforcement of
existing regulations with consistent and regular oversight.
We believe Congress should take steps to immediately —
• Allow the market effects of the VA’s renewed emphasis on enforcing the 85/15 rule to play out.
• Treat all veteran college degree programs at public institutions equally.
• Encourage the use of flight simulator training where appropriate, and curb costly and
unnecessary turbine helicopter training (absent an appropriate waiver for individual
• Consider the impact on veteran flight-training costs of VA enforcement of an approved
FAA Training Course Outline (TCO) that calls for an increase in total degree flight time from
the existing 204 flight hours to 264 flight hours — a 29 percent increase in flight hours and
• Advocate for a GAO study on the costs and requirements necessary for veterans to obtain
employable status as an instrument-rated pilot with flight instructor and flight instructor–
instrument certificates that meet minimum FAA certification requirements, including changes
within current programs related to misguided grading systems that have facilitated repeated
VA benefit payments for flight training hours when students have failed to advance within
the program. A GAO study should lead to the development of necessary statutory changes and
guidelines to preserve veteran flight training, including industry agreed-upon training and
Our associations remain committed to working with the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and
Members of Congress to ensure our nation is standing behind the commitment made to veterans
who have honorably served our nation and who are working on the next chapter of their lives.
It is important to remember that GI Bill education benefits are an important recruiting tool for
the Armed Forces. Many of the veterans currently working toward their commercial pilot licenses
matriculated based upon the promise of full tuition benefits for pilot training after completing
their active duty service.
Now that they have fulfilled their duty and honored us with their service, veterans in these
programs dream of an aviation job and work hard to attain that goal — making sacrifices to
achieve that commercial pilot license and counting on Congress to stand behind promises made.
H.R. 476 is a disservice to our nation’s veterans, will exacerbate the deteriorating pool of
commercial pilots — thereby accelerating the pilot shortage in this country — and will have
a lasting detrimental effect on commercial aviation in the United States. We urge you not
to include it in the package of bills to be considered by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in
Thursday’s markup session.
The return on our country’s investment in the veteran and society over the long term brings
significant benefits — most importantly, continued safety within the aviation industry.
Matthew S. Zuccaro, President & CEO Helicopter Association International
Greg Principato, President & CEO NASAO
Mark R. Baker, President & CEO AOPA
Thomas L. Hendricks, President & CEO NATA
Jack Pelton, Chairman EAA
Ed Bolen, President & CEO NBAA
Peter J. Bunce, President & CEO GAMA