Political Shell Game Being Waged With Military Veterans on Tuition Assistance

MMBA - Word Strip BlueThere is a political shell game playing out in Washington D.C. and Post-9/11 military veterans are likely to get caught up in the confusion. Doing so means you, or your family members, will lose out on education benefits you have worked hard and sacrificed for.

When using different types of tuition assistance (TA), administered by various programs, it is critical to know the source and the implications of deciding to use certain types of TA programs. Tuition Assistance (TA) programs such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is administered by the VA, are fully funded and will see zero impact by government sequester.

However, not all TA programs are treated equally and nothing related to tuition assistance these days is black and white. There are a lot of grey areas and conflicting advice about TA programs. This includes misrepresentations by government officials such as Senator Tom Coburn’s proposal to balance the federal budget.

The VFW recently took issue with Sen. Coburn’s inability to consider the best interests of veterans and their education benefits. The VFW does a good job of explaining how this could affect you and your family. We have decided to include the VFW’s statement of clarity in this post. Their original transcript can be found here.

In Sen. Tom Coburn’s “Back in Black” proposal to balance the budget, the senator calls for an end to the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance, or TA, program for active duty troops, calling it “duplicative” to Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits. However, the VFW views this benefit as a valuable tool allowing active duty troops to receive higher education, which is now a professional development requirement for advancement to leadership ranks for both officer and enlisted personnel.

While Coburn is correct in noting that service members may utilize Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits while on active duty, the VFW would discourage this practice. A service member who uses Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits will simultaneously squander months of Post-9/11 G.I. Bill eligibility, which could be used either after service for further education and professional development, or transferred to dependents for those who choose a career in the military. The TA program allows for service members to develop professional skills they will ultimately apply while still serving in the military without unnecessarily tapping into their earned veterans’ benefits.

Coburn also asserts that the Department of Defense does not have adequate standards to evaluate academic programs in which service members may enroll, and that the department is planning to bid out a new contract to conduct such an evaluation in 2012. The VFW agrees that such a new contract would be wasteful, but would encourage DOD to adopt the Army’s preexisting follow-up and auditing criteria to ensure beneficial outcomes for service members. GAO recommended similar oversight procedures in a recent report on the TA program, which can be found here.

The VFW disagrees with Coburn’s estimated cost savings of $4.9 million, viewing the elimination of the benefit as a shell game that will only pass the costs of higher education onto the service member. Service members earn promotion points for completing post-secondary education programs, often setting the bar for promotions among military peers. If the TA program is eliminated, service members will be forced to tap G.I. Bill benefits in an effort to offset personal costs, exhausting eligibility for the robust Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and still drawing from government coffers. Unfortunately, Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits are simply inadequate to fully finance many higher education programs, meaning higher out-of-pocket costs for service members looking to further their military careers. The VFW believes the proposal to cut TA would only create additional financial hardships for military families, as service members strive for responsible professional development.

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