The United States has one of the most well educated and education-minded fighting forces ever. Many new recruits come into the force - both the enlisted and officer ranks - already with college degrees, and most have ambitions to continue their education both during and after military service. Needless to say, educational opportunities are important to those who serve, which is why the GI Bill has been a critically important benefit to our veterans and an important investment for our country for more than a half-century.
In 2008, IAVA strongly advocated for the successful passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to modernize this important and well deserved benefit for those who have carried the burden of fighting our nation's wars. And while this "New" GI Bill was a giant leap forward for our veterans, it also required prudent follow-up legislation and continued advocacy to protect and improve the benefit.
When I went into the Army back in 2001, I had already completed my freshman year of college and I entered onto active duty from the place I was living at the time - Greensboro, NC. I was not a resident of North Carolina then, so I naturally had to pay the out-of-state tuition rate to attend a public university in that state. However, when I later ETSed from the Army and returned to finish college in my home state of South Carolina, I was surprised to learned that both North Carolina and South Carolina no longer considered me a resident for in-state tuition purposes.
Many other veterans also find themselves in the same circumstance following military service. A service member who is stationed in a certain state for years, buys a home in that state, begins raising a family in that state, pays taxes in that state, and ETSs/EASs (i.e., transitions from active duty to civilian life) in that state can still be denied the opportunity to attend college at the in-state tuition rate in that state. And because the Post-9/11 GI Bill can only pay up to the maximum in-state tuition rate in the state in which a veteran attends college, those veterans stuck in this "residency abyss" are stuck with a bill and extra debt burden - often quite sizable - for the tuition difference.
The New GI Bill pumps $4 billion into state budgets and local economies across the country, so it is not too much to ask that states to step up and allow veterans who end up there because of their military service obligations to attend college there at the in-state rate and use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit to cover the full cost of their education. In fact, 14 states have already taken the initiative to craft local fixes for this obvious problem, but a consistent, across-the-board solution is still needed.
To make this no-brainer a reality, Congressman Jeff Miller (Florida-01), Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (HR 357). Senator John Boozman (Arkansas) has also introduced an identical version of this bill in the Senate. If passed, this legislation would ensure that all veterans who attend college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill are allowed to do so at in-state tuition rates and are not punished for faithfully fulfilling their military service obligations away from their original state of residency.
The New GI Bill is a great tool to help transform the New Greatest Generation of service members into a new generation of scholars, entrepreneurs, citizens, and civilian leaders. It is only fair that we continue to evolve this benefit and improve the impact of this investment in those who have fought and in the country they have served.
Alex Nicholson is IAVA's Legislative Director and works out of our Washington, DC, office.