WASHINGTON, D.C. — Surry County’s representative to the Senate, Kay Hagan (D-NC), has joined Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe to introduce an amendment to the Continuing Resolution that would reinstate the tuition assistance program for service members.
Inhofe (R-Okla.) serves as the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In the wake of cuts forced on the Department of Defense by sequestration, the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps already have decided to suspend the benefits, designed for active duty service members.
Tuition assistance for the military offers financial assistance to service members who choose to pursue off-duty or voluntary education. This assistance offers military members $250 per credit hour, or up to $4,500 each fiscal year. That money can be used to cover tuition, lab fees, enrollment fees, special fees and computer fees.
According to Hagan, last year about 300,000 service men and women participated in the program.
“In the same time period, more than 50,000 degrees, diplomas or certificates were earned by active duty service members enrolled in the program,” she said.
The cuts do not affect military men and women who already are receiving tuition assistance, but it does prevent members of the military from requesting new assistance.
Hagan said the cuts also could affect future enlistments.
“This program has been in the military for years, and is often used as a recruiting and retention tool,” she said. “It also benefits the military, because while they’re still in the service they can continue developing their skills and continuing education.”
The Surry County senator said it is unfair to place the burden of Washington’s dysfunction on the military.
“We cannot put the burden of addressing our long-term fiscal challenges on the backs of our service members,” she said. “The tuition assistance program gives our best and brightest the opportunity to continue developing their skills while on duty, which will ultimately lead to a smoother transition to civilian life.”
Hagan said the bipartisan aspect of the bill illustrates its importance.
“This bipartisan measure shows the gravity of the concerns we’re trying to address,” she said. “The cuts mandated by sequestration really are devastating, but rather than extending this tuition assistance cut, the Department of Defense should look to streamline other programs to reduce costs.”
The bill is expected to be attached to the Continuing Resolution that would fund government agencies due to the lack of an appropriations bill. The continuing resolution is under consideration on the Senate floor.
“I would like to think this has a good chance of passing,” Hagan said. “I’d like to see a vote on the floor this week.”
As of Monday, a wide array of groups were voicing support for the measure.
Groups including the Military Officers Association of America, the American Legion, the Marine Corps League, American Military Retirees Association, American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association and the American Association of Community Colleges have said they support the amendment.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.