In spite of pleas from aviation groups, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill those groups say could prevent many military servicepersons from using their VA benefits for helicopter flight training.
H.R. 3016 is the current home of a January 2015 proposal by Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio to cap flight-training funds provided to U.S. military veterans through the Post-9/11 GI Bill at $20,235 per year. The House approved the bill Feb. 9 following a 41-minute debate, and it now awaits a decision by the U.S. Senate before being potentially written into law.
The proposal came in response to a practice among private flight schools that offered helicopter training as part of an affiliated university’s two-year or four-year aviation degree program. According to the Los Angeles Times, some of these schools used the limitless funds available to veterans as a way to offer flight training in expensive turbine helicopters rather than in their cheaper, entry-level counterparts—a major selling point for veterans looking to become commercial helicopter pilots. “For two years of training to become a pilot, the government often pays more than $250,000, over twice the amount non-veterans pay at many schools,” said the Los Angeles Times.
“Due to a current loophole in the GI Bill, student veterans have been able to take pilot training classes with questionable job placement prospects at exorbitant cost to the taxpayers,” said Rep. Mark Takano of California, adding that “this loophole is a disservice to student veterans who would be better served by one of the many flight school programs that cost well under the cap.”
But industry groups have called the proposed cap too restrictive, saying it would not cover the combined costs of flight training and college even without the perceived benefits abuse. In a Feb. 8 letter addressed to the leadership of both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives, HAI and six other aviation assns. said that without additional sources of income, “a veteran would be unable to attain an aeronautical college degree with a commercial pilot license under the proposed cap of $20,235 on flight training for tuition and fee payments at public schools.”