The latest restrictions have been imposed on programs in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Washington state.
The government has ordered at least five more helicopter-training programs to stop enrolling more veterans, part of a continuing crackdown to end GI Bill abuses that have cost tens of millions of dollars.
The latest restrictions have been imposed on programs in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Washington that have trained dozens of veterans at a cost of up to $150,000 each for two years — all billed to the government.
The action followed a halt on new enrollments at Southern Utah University in Cedar City and Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., two of the most popular and expensive programs, which routinely charged more than $250,000 for a two-year course.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began clamping down in March after the Los Angeles Times reported that helicopter flight companies were exploiting a loophole in the newest GI Bill to train veterans entirely at government expense, with no cap on what they could charge.
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The programs were cited for violating a requirement that nonveterans make up at least 15 percent of students in VA-funded programs, a rule aimed at ensuring that programs don’t exist solely on GI Bill money. The VA hadn’t been enforcing the rule.
At Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Wash., where tuition and helicopter flight fees run just under $82,000 for two years, 11 of the 12 students were veterans.
“We didn’t start the program for veterans,” said Doug Sly, a spokesman. “But consciously or subconsciously, you knew those would be the only people with the resources to get in.”
He said the college is appealing the VA suspension.
The VA is allowing veterans already enrolled in the programs to complete their training.
At least one school, Palm Beach State College in Florida, has said it plans to shut down its program when current students finish.
Of 115 helicopter students there, 109 were veterans, VA auditors found.
Even veterans who complete their training face a difficult future.
Benjamin Samples, 35, an Army veteran who moved to Florida from Seattle and is about halfway through his training there, said he is not giving up.
“If it’s something you love, you trudge on,” he said. “That’s what’s holding me on at present.”