Senators Step Up To Challenge Cuts to Tuition Assistance

UPDATE 3/19/13: In response to the failure of their amendment to reach the Senate floor, Senators Inhofe and Hagan have boldly decided to continue pushing forward with a stand-alone bill to restore funding for the Tuition Assistance program for service members. The new Senate bill should be introduced today.

Sequestration is here, and it’s beginning to show its impact. Unfortunately, the first casualty for service members is the elimination of Tuition Assistance. Not only is this particular cut unwise, but also unnecessary. There is no way that the Department of Defense is such a lean and efficient operation that the services had no choice but to cut this critical, morale-boosting benefit. Tuition Assistance is a vital resource for service members. It enhances the education and readiness of the force and helps thousands get the education that they need to progress and advance in their military careers.

This week, two members of the US Senate tried to take action. Senator Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) and Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) introduced an amendment to the government-funding bill that would require the DoD to restore funding for the program. Unfortunately, this amendment failed to reach the floor.

In the words of Senator Hagan, "Tuition Assistance also enhances professionalism of the Active, Guard, and Reserve forces by helping service members more fully develop their skills, serves as an important tool to retain them in the military, and prepares those who choose to leave the military for a successful transition into the civilian workforce." And the senator makes a good point: not only is this program important for active duty troops, but it is critical to enabling successful transitions to post-service (i.e., veteran) life.

Meanwhile, the DoD is already at work promoting less-than-stellar alternatives for financing college in the absence of Tuition Assistance. A couple of these options are CLEP (which many colleges don’t recognize) and books on finding scholarships. As you’d expect, these fall far short. DoD is also attempting to pass the cost on to the VA by suggesting that service members use their Post 9/11 GI Bill to cover what tuition assistance used to cover. Passing that cost on to the service member’s GI Bill is inappropriate, as the GI Bill was designed as a benefit to assist in a veteran’s transition to civilian life. Cutting tuition assistance removes the ability for junior officers and junior enlisted from pursuing the outside education needed to enhance their skills and gain promotions.

With this amendment failing to reach the Senate floor, Tuition Assistance remains on the DoD chopping block. The Department of Defense needs to heed the advice of Senators Hagan, Inhofe and nearly every veteran service organization by restoring Tuition Assistance for troops. Big thanks to Senator Hagan and Senator Inhofe for having our backs.

Tom Tarantino is an Iraq veteran and IAVA's Chief Policy Officer