Senators Seek to Protect Military Tuition Assistance Program

Soldiers on Okinawa, Japan, register for college courses at Torii Station's Education Center in early March. Soldiers on Okinawa, Japan, register for college courses at Torii Station's Education Center in early March. Defense Department

Two senators have joined forces to fight the Defense Department’s plan to cut the military’s tuition assistance program as part of sequestration.

Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., introduced an amendment  on March 13 to the Senate’s proposed continuing resolution  that would force the Pentagon to fund tuition assistance programs at the levels specified in the legislation.

In a statement released on March 14, Inhofe said that the amendment “reinforces the commitment of the Department of Defense” to service members relying on tuition assistance programs. He said the programs were essential to help military veterans transition back into the civilian workforce, and lambasted the Obama administration for allowing the original cuts.

“The president wants Americans to feel the pain of the arbitrary across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration,” Inhofe said in a statement. “But to cut off promised education assistance for our service members when there are other lower priority spending programs to draw from is an injustice.”

Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale told senior Pentagon leaders in a memo sent on March 5 that tuition assistance programs, along with congressional travel and civilian bonuses, would face the budget axe because of sequestration. Stars and Stripes estimated that the recent moves to cut tuition assistance would save approximately $600 million per year and could affect more than 300,000 service members.

Army Secretary John McHugh told the service that soldiers would not be able to submit new requests for tuition assistance money starting March 8. Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Howard B. Bromberg said in a statement that the suspension would remain in place “until the fiscal situation matures.”

Hagan said that the tuition assistance program gives “our best and the brightest the opportunity to continue developing their skills while on active duty,” and that the government could not “put the burden” of budgetary challenges on service members. In a statement released Monday, she said the amendment had growing bipartisan support, and she was “proud to have the support of so many military and education groups.”

She added: "There is no doubt we must get our fiscal house in order, but this is not the way to do so – it is shortsighted to completely suspend this crucial program.” 

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