A non-profit organization called House of Prayer, a chain of schools that students call a cult, has been accused of recruiting veterans and active service members and then defrauding them of more than 7 million dollars in GI Bill benefits and disability checks to pay for Unaccredited Bible Courses.
In testimony on the GI Modernization Bill before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday, William Hubbard, vice president of military and veterans policy at Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group focused on promoting the higher education achievement for service members, veterans and their families, said the House of Prayer Abuse is proof that greater oversight of the GI Bill program is needed.
“Regardless of VA’s efforts to modernize and improve the administration of education benefits, student veterans continue to face the threat of predatory actors in higher education, and in many cases with alarming consequences. Recently, the FBI conducted multiple raids across the country on a system of GI Bill-approved schools that are affiliated under the “House of Prayer” banner, Hubbard noted in his testimony.
“These raids demonstrated the importance of remaining vigilant against harmful behavior and establishing much-needed minimum quality standards. Additionally, during the pandemic, the higher education landscape has become considerably less predictable; it is essential to monitor unscrupulous behavior and poor quality programs,” he added.
On June 23, the FBI raided at least six House of Prayer locations, including Fayetteville, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington, Texas and California, but did not Wasn’t clear if the raids were related to any particular case. The organization is led by elusive veteran Rony Denis and has 11 churches near US military installations.
House of Prayer allegedly used high-pressure tactics to recruit vulnerable veterans or active-duty members and exploited them for their government rights through programs such as the GI Bill, Military.com reported. In the meantime, Denis also reportedly got rich by building an untold real estate empire worth millions.
Some of the former students who spoke to the publication were said to have been veterans or active duty members when involved with the House of Prayer. Some sources “described having had suicidal ideation or previous attempts,” the publication said, adding that some had been injured in post-9/11 wars or suffered previous trauma.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, GI Bill benefits help “qualified veterans and their family members get money to cover some or all of their tuition or training costs.”
Arlen Bradeen, an Army veteran who led the House of Prayer Bible School from its inception in 2004 until he left the church in 2018, told Military.com how the organization has exploited GI Bill membership benefits once the Bible School was approved for GI. Bill in 2013. He recalled how the cost per semester for Bible courses went from $300 to around $3,000.
“It burns me because there were a lot of good people who burned their VA money at those schools,” Bradeen said. “They used all their college money to donate to Denis’ Rolls Royce.”
He said while House of Prayer schools do not maintain traditional course offerings available at other educational institutions, they use several tricks to ensure they can continue to access GI benefits. Bill.
He revealed that the organization would be renaming classes to circumvent the VA’s requirement that federal dollars cannot be used for a student to repeat a course. He further noted that the classes were no different from a regular Sunday School session focusing on different Bible themes.
“We wanted them all to be there full time,” Bradeen said. “So we would rename the courses so they could take over the course.”
The Christian Post contacted the House of Prayer to comment on the report on Thursday, but no response was received by press time.
The Reverend Jeff Derby, spokesman for the organization, told Military.com that their attorneys advised them not to make public statements about the situation.
“Our attorneys have advised us not to speak, comment or make any statements to the media or anyone else while the Bible seminary is under investigation,” Derby said in a statement to the publication. .
Bradeen said he was forced to leave his wife and family to escape the House of Prayer, lamenting the power Denis wielded over students and members.
Military.com quoted a post in which Denis told his followers that God allowed him to kill them, but he chose not to do so out of love. “God gave me permission to kill everyone here. But I won’t because I love you,” Denis allegedly preached during a Sunday service, according to Rosalie Wright, an Army veteran and mother of four who was convinced to spend her GI Bill benefits at House of Prayer schools.
Wright, who left school without a degree or marketable skills after spending all of her GI benefits in class at House of Prayer, can no longer afford to study nursing.
“I’m still trying to establish myself, and it doesn’t feel right,” she told Military.com. “When I had two kids in high school, I felt like I should be more advanced, and I could really use the GI Bill right now.”
Other students have also been convinced to get low-cost VA home loans and then live in dorms so House of Prayer can rent out those homes to generate income. Meanwhile, Denis has acquired three multimillion-dollar homes in Georgia and Florida, Military.com said.
It has been noted that state approval agencies, or SAAs, which determine whether educational institutions meet the requirements for GI Bill money, began cracking down on the House of Prayer earlier this year. after Veterans Education Success complained of abuse.
“Currently, there is no effective system to proactively prevent the approval of bad programs. The statutes governing program approval are seriously outdated, still referring to courses taught “by radio”, and they continue to allow a low level of entry. We strongly believe that veterans and taxpayers are entitled to a reasonable return on investment for the GI Bill,” Hubbard told the subcommittee on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, there are many examples of programs causing serious harm to the veterans they intend to train and educate. The consequences of locking veterans into bad programs include: irrecoverable loss of time, heavy debts and damage to personal reputation,” he added.
“Despite poor results, many of these programs and schools continue to reap millions of taxpayer dollars through the recruitment and exploitation of veterans and the abuse of their educational benefits.”