Growing Number Of Veterans Rack Up Student Debt Despite G.I. Bill

Twenty-six percent of undergraduates receiving veteran education benefits—meant to financially cover four years of tuition at a public university, with some programs covering private school tuition as well—have nevertheless been made to take out student loans to finance their education and living expenses, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of Department of Education data.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill allows veterans who served after Sept. 10, 2001 to use education benefits for colleges, universities, trade schools, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and flight schools. Most veterans receive enough funding for their tuition and a monthly living stipend—the LA Times puts the average figure at $1,300 a month, depending on where the student veteran lives—but according to data from academic year 2012, 26 percent of veterans took out an average of $7,400 in federal or private loans. That figure is slightly higher than students who had never served in the military.

As the LA Times points out, “The figure suggests that beneficiaries could easily accrue more than $25,000 in debt to graduate with a four-year degree.” The current national student debt average caps at $35,000 for the Class of 2015, a figure that will likely increase for the Class of 2016 if current trends continue. As the Institute for College Access and Success observes, the share of college graduates with debt rose only modestly (from 65 percent to 69 percent) in the past decade, but average amount of debt at graduation has risen at more than twice the rate of inflation.

The news comes in the midst of major protests over skyrocketing student debt across the country. The Million Student March, held Nov. 12 at over 100 universities in the United States and Canada, called for tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers. The march boasted students, graduates, workers, and advocates of all backgrounds.

Currently, no law prevents veterans from taking out student loans, regardless of their education benefit coverage. In fact, federal law prohibits colleges and the government from considering G.I. Bill benefits when determining a student’s financial aid. And veterans have a variety of unique life circumstances that drive them to take out loans. “They’re not your typical 18- to 20-year-old students who just got out of high school,” Will Hubbard, a spokesman for Student Veterans of America, told the LA Times. “In many cases, they have families with children.”

Student veterans are saddled with the most debt at for-profit colleges, which take a disproportionate share of veteran education benefits due to aggressive and exploitative recruitment of veterans—a practice that may soon come to an end. In June, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Military and Veterans Education Protection Act to end a loophole where for-profit universities receive undue government subsidies through veteran education benefits.

Courtney Hamilton is a reporter for Generation Progress, covering progressive economics.

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