By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, visited with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers Friday at Fort Stewart, Ga., and discussed a new executive order that helps to safeguard military education benefits and protect service members from predatory schools.
Obama and the first lady expressed their desire to protect military members, veterans and their families from predatory recruiters offering bogus and costly education programs.
“I've heard the stories … you may have experienced it yourselves. You go online to try and find the best school for military members or your spouses or other family members,” President Obama said. “You end up on a website that looks official. They ask you for your email, they ask you for your phone number, they promise to link you up with a program that fits your goals.”
Obama pointed to certain schools that “aren’t interested in helping” because “they don't care about you; they care about the cash,” later referring to them as “appalling” and “disgraceful” and something that “should never happen in America.”
“I'm not talking about all schools,” the president noted. “Many of them, for-profit and nonprofit, provide quality education to our service members and our veterans and their families. But there are some bad actors out there.”
Obama declared he was “going to put an end” to hidden high-interest student loans, non-transferrable credits and non-existent job placement programs used as tactics to “swindle and hoodwink” troops through his signature today of an executive order.
According to the president, the order requires colleges to provide clear information about qualifications and financial aid through access to a fact sheet called “Know Before You Owe,” and providing increased support through counseling.
“If you've got to move because of a deployment or reassignment, they've got to help you come up with a plan that you can still get your degree,” he said. “[And] we're going to bring an end to the aggressive, and sometimes, dishonest recruiting that takes place.”
Obama also indicated tougher restrictions to colleges and universities allowed on military installations and increased vigilance to prevent improper education program recruiting practices.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lauded the president’s and first lady’s commitment to protect the military, veterans and their families.
"I applaud the steps, President and Mrs. Obama, announced today to ensure military and veterans' educational benefits meet the needs of service members, veterans, and their families,” he said. "Ensuring quality educational opportunities are available to those who have served our nation in uniform is an essential part of enabling them to compete in today's economy.”
America’s men and women in uniform and military veterans “have fought and risked their lives for this country,” the secretary said. “They represent a generation of Americans returning home from war with unique experience and skills that make them invaluable in schools, workplaces, and communities across America and the world.”
Panetta said the demands of military service can make it difficult to find the right information from schools, especially those engaged in aggressive, deceptive recruiting practices.
“This initiative will ensure that service members, veterans, and their families have the information and support they need to make informed decisions about their well-earned educational benefits,” he said. “This effort helps preserve our nation's legacy, going back to the original GI Bill, of doing all that we can to help our troops lead productive and successful lives after leaving the military.”
The defense secretary said Obama’s executive order is another example of the president’s “strong support” to troops and their families. Panetta thanked the president and first lady for their commitment to “these brave young men and women."
The first lady touched on the “Joining Forces” campaign during her remarks today to soldiers at Fort Stewart. Established about a year ago, “Joining Forces” is a nationwide campaign that was created to recognize, honor and support veterans, troops and military families. The first lady started the “Joining Forces” campaign with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
“In our first year alone, more than 1,600 businesses hired more than 60,000 veterans, and they pledged to hire at least 170,000 more in the coming years,” the first lady said of some results of “Joining Forces” campaign efforts.
The Commander in Chief commended the division’s soldiers for their “unshakable commitment to our country” as they performed “heroically in some of the most dangerous places on earth.”
“You have done everything that has been asked of you and more,” Obama said. “You have earned a special place in our nation's history.”