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U.S. taxpayers stuck with the tab as helicopter flight schools exploit GI Bill loophole

For some flight schools that train helicopter pilots, the GI Bill that took effect in 2009 was a windfall the government never intended. At one flight company, records show 12 veterans whose training had cost the government more than $500,000 each. As long as the money flows through a public institution, there is no limit on what the VA will pay for flight training. ( Plus d'info...

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Mike Rigg 7
As a former owner of a successful helicopter charter and training company that existed well before this latest Fed boondoggle, and as a former Army Captain and as a West Point graduate, I'm shocked at a few of the comments here. There seems to be two trains of thought: (1) better to spend it on the vets than have the Feds spend it frivolously somewhere else, and (2) these vets deserve all of this for their service. First, how about, "don't spend it frivolously ANYWHERE?" Bad behavior on the part of these schools is not justified because the government wastes money elsewhere. These bills are outrageous. Let them get most of their hours in an R-22, not a turbine. We turned out new commercial pilots for a fraction of the costs mentioned here, mainly because our students didn't have an unlimited bank account. Second, I agree we have an obligation to these vets, but not at any price. If you really think we owe this kind of money, how about you sell all your worldly possessions and donate the proceeds to the USO or VFW? It sure is easy to spend other people's money, eh? I don't even agree that this is the best use of the money: maybe this money should be going to the VA for PTSD care instead of giving a guy maybe a 40% chance of getting a job as a helicopter pilot. But if we want to fund flight training, simply give these trainees a maximum budget that is reasonable. Through their greed, these schools are harming America. It may be a pinprick to the federal government, but all of these ridiculous Fed expenditures add up.
bbabis 6
Remember, the purpose of writing the laws are the loopholes. They are known and redirect money exactly were it is intended to go. I'll also agree that we can't give our veterans enough. So, before closing this one that costs us millions, let's shutdown the ones that give billions to the criminal, illegal, and lazy leaches of the world.
Tim Marks -1
Agreed, paying a fourth generation of societal leeches for doing nothing with food stamps, free education, free housing and free cell phones. These people are typically associated with criminal activity - gangs, drugs, trafficking and other forms of counter productive activities. These are the programs promoted by the curretn administration and its liberal handlers, all to keep perpetuating societal problems to keep their 'pet' nanny-state programs funded and growing.
jmilleratp 2
Everyone sees taxpayer money as free money to take from as much as they please. So, no level of outrageous spending is surprising. I got through flight school from pre-private to Flight Instructor for $25,000. So, I can't imagine what these people could be doing with half a million.
bbabis 0
Read the article and see what turbine helo time costs. Even at $500,000 you would still be well short of what's needed to gualify for a job. That is why 95% of turbine helo jobs are filled by military trained or GI program paid pilots. As far as fixed wing goes, you used to be able to get an entry position around 250 hrs maybe. Now with government rules for an ATP and 1500 hrs to get a low paying job, who's going to pay for that training? Let the government do it. Sounds to me like fixed wing schools have every right to get the same money.
matthew haney 2
Correct me if I am wrong, last I heard there is a shortage of helo pilots. These laws at the very least provide meaningful support for our vets with a defined outcome, as opposed to open ended QE programs to financial institutions for which the outcome is pure speculation. Maybe the Federal Reserve should start investing in our veterans which no doubt would result in a much better return as opposed to nationalized to big to fail banks whose future is uncertain.
jaymeinen 1
More power to them! At least they're training for the future. I'm sure that the cost is a fraction of the money spent on deadbeats who have absolutely no intention of ever working!
Scott Campbell 1
My son and on of his good friends are Marines, the latter is out and spent time In Iraq watching his buddies die around him, left with PTS, but with support he's now out and working. With his own money he trained and got his private. And now wants to continue training with his VA benefits. At this point i really don't care what it costs us to give him a chance of making a life for himself as a pilot.
After what he's endured and seen, it's the least we can do for him, or any deserving vet. Chris you have my respect always- go get what you want - OORAH !!
Scott Campbell 4
But i'm not ok'ing 500,000 for rotor training, for anyone :)
bbabis 2
Every military trained pilot has at least twice that invested in him/her. What's the difference if you serve your country after training or before training? Thank you to you, your son, and his friends and may they benefit from their service as we have.
joel wiley 2
Please thank your son & friends for their service. While the support from the VA has improved over the years, it still has a long way to to provide what they deserve.
Ric Wernicke 1
They did mention these were Vets that were getting this training. What is the difference if they learn to fly in the military, or just outside it? The government has an obligation to take care of the Vets. They do a piss poor job of healthcare for them, perhaps training is a place they can stand out.

This money is not wasted. It is an investment in the future success of our country. Lord knows government wastes forklift loads of cash for so-called entitlement programs.
Philip Clifton 11
If you learn to fly in the military, you incur a (frequently substantial) service obligation. They invest a ton of money teaching you to fly, and they ensure a return on that investment by owning you for half a decade or so. In this case, there is no return on that investment, and moreover, without cost oversight, these flight schools are free to charge exorbitant rates because there's no economic reason not to.

Now, before my message is misinterpreted, I want to be perfectly clear: I have no problem with vets using GI Bill benefits to get flight training. I don't even have a problem with them getting comparatively expensive rotor training. I do, however, have a problem with a flight school basically having the ability to write itself a blank check from Uncle Sam, and that appears to be the situation we have here.

When I read this article, I don't get the sense of flight schools helping out vets. Instead, I get the sense of flight schools seeing vets as a cash cow to be milked thoroughly.
These vets paid their service obligation in advance of the training rather than after training.
Philip Clifton 4
Agreed. Again, I have no gripe with the vets getting the training. My gripe is with the flight schools having the ability to charge whatever they want with no oversight.
bbabis 1
I read it again Philip and found nothing stating that there was no oversight. In fact the VA looks over the program and they also must compete in the marketplace. Turbine time, not cheap, and lots of it, is crucial to getting a job today. These schools invested to provide that and can take a student right up to job ready, something most schools can't. I got my CRW in piston poppers and can't do anything with it except have fun. The veterans have a leg up in this area on most of us and good for them. I know that ultimately someone will scream enough that this benefit will be cut back and the money will be diverted to another muslim outreach program, but hey, let 'em use it while they can.
joel wiley 3
The law and loopholes were written to benefit the schools and their backers. Any benefit to actual vets is incidental. But if it benefits the vets, I'm for it. Better use than funding congress.
bbabis 2
If you had a cow would you go to the store to buy milk? If these schools turn out safe pilots well trained to step into a rotary wing job today, then we cannot complain. One of those pilots may be picking our butts up off the side of the road one day and I won't mind how much I paid for their training.
Dan Egelhoff 1
The Ivy League schools have been doing this for years with the "Easy Money" that Govt Student Loans provide. Then the Govt "forgives" the loans and the taxpayers end up with a mush-brained feel-good basket weaver that not only skipped out on serving his country but is now unemployed or carrying a picket sign.
The schools are gigantic and the "Professors" are getting rich with pensions that exceed a 4-Star General's highest active duty pay.
There is nothing to see here until Student Loans are clamped down and Liberal Arts Professors are paid equivalent to that of a Veteran who actually offered his life to his country.
bbabis 1
Well said Dan. The saddest part is that its not just the Ivy League.
Exactly right. About half the students who get these loans no more belong in college than I do in astronaut school.
James Carlson -1
Citation, please? Student loans normally survive bankruptcy. You normally either die or pay them back. Here are the rules for the Federal loans:

As a parent of a non-ivy college student facing expenses that are in no way "easy," I'm disappointed to see an anti-education screed on this site.
Dan Egelhoff 1
What? You don't know how to Google?
Here, I'll get you started:

The point is you shouldn't have to die paying back your education costs which are so exorbitant because the schools CHARGE so much because the Government provides EASY access to money to young people that should not be BORROWING that kind of money anyway.
The schools and "Proffs" are lining their pockets with government money while strapping young people with incomprehensible DEBT.
The result is the students (and their parents) don't work to pay for their education up front. They work so that they can spend their Spring Break in the Bahamas out of their mind on anything that will screw up their brain. Not to mention the seeds they sow for a few months of abortions - again at Government expense.

You are WRONG. We are not an "Anti-Education Creed". Nobody said the Education "Costs" were easy - that was my point. They are outrageous just like these Helicopter schools. But when the government offers them Easy Funding through Legal Loopholes We the Taxpayers need to stand up call FOUL.

And as others have stated here, we are not against Veteran's Education Benefits. I achieved my degree with the "help" of the old GI Bill. While serving my country 1 semester hour at a time as I could afford my contribution. I have no debt and I have no memories of the scantily clad girls in the Bahamas either. Saigon maybe.

My son achieved his degree in an APPROPRIATE University and has no debt also because he worked his way through to supplement my contribution so that he can provide you with colorful and interesting TV commercials. The only Government "Program" he used or needed was his Veteran Dad.

Again, the issue here is the greedy schools jacking up their prices because the government allows it. And that is because they are spending Somebody Else's Money.
I agree with you a hundred. As I said above a large % are only in college because of easy money and should they actually receive a degree it won't do them any good when the boss figures out they are just an educated dumbass. Agree all the schools are lining their pockets. That said, I wonder if this was really a "loophole" or a plan?
Again, they probably passed the bill to find out what was in it. That said, I admit to being a military trained rotor wing pilot who has used the old GI bill and fully support all vet services.
Is this limited to only helicopters? Ive heard of some buddies who are possibly doing this same thing with fixed wing training, but only after a PPL is earned. With the way the costs and time requirements are going in the fixed wing world, one can only hope that this VA program fills the gap for fixed wing pilots also. I wish I would have used mine this way!
And, it wouldnt cost $600,000 for a commercial ticket for a job that's in more demand than helicopter pilots. There are tons of military helo guys that leave the service and never want to fly a helo again, but I dont think the same applies to military fixed wing guys...
Purdue13 -1
What if they went to these flight schools to use their training towards a trade, in very much the same way a vocational school is used? Yes I'm biased, and I'm sure some did it for fun, but there are weirdos that take math classes for fun. They are no friends of mine, but I'm not going to cut off funding because of it.
Jeff Lawson 4
I think the intent was probably there be a cap of $10,000 a year per student (as apparently is the case with private flight schools), but there is a loophole that allows no cap for public institutions.
What kind of human would take a Math class for fun!!!
bbabis 3
I give a thumbs up because I can't give two on that one THRUSTT.

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