The Senate voted Wednesday to restore tuition assistance for servicemembers in a move that was expected to gain support from the House and reverse the suspension of new enrollments in the program for continuing education in the military.
By a voice vote, the Senate approved a bi-partisan amendment offered by Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., to the Continuing Resolution for the funding of the government that would spare the tuition assistance programs in which hundreds of thousands of servicemembers are enrolled.
In a statement issued after the voice vote, Hagan’s office said “the House is expected to pass the legislation without further changes,” possibly as soon as Thursday.
In her own statement, Hagan said “I’m so pleased that we came together, Democrats and Republicans, to pass this important amendment.”
A previous effort by Inhofe and Hagan to save tuition assistance by the amendment process had failed. They had introduced a stand-alone bill as a substitute, but the Senate leadership instead revived their amendment Wednesday and it quickly gathered support on both sides of the aisle.
The amendment from Inhofe and Hagan, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was aimed at reversing the suspension of new enrollments in TA programs by the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. Servicemembers currently enrolled were also advised that they would not be approved for future courses.
The Navy has yet to act on the popular tuition assistance plans for continuing education, but Navy officials have said they are considering proposals that would require sailors to pay for a percentage of the aid they receive.
In a joint statement, Inhofe and Hagan said their goal was to prevent the termination of tuition assistance while limiting the funding of the program from being cut beyond the overall percentage reduction of the services’ Operations and Maintenance accounts.
“We are doing our brave military members and America a disservice if we take away a program that can be critical in assisting their re-entry into the civilian workforce,” Inhofe said.
“Around 60 percent of our men and women who join our all-volunteer Armed Forces do so in order to pursue a higher education," said Inhofe. "This is a moral issue; not a partisan issue.”
Denying educational benefits to our men and women in uniform is not the way to get our fiscal house in order,” said Hagan. “Many of our servicemembers join the forces with the goal of advancing their educations, and we must keep our promises to them.”
The cuts to tuition assistance were part of the $46 billion in cutbacks the Defense Department has been ordered to make before Oct. 1 because of sequestration.
Under sequestration, the cuts must be made across the board in all accounts. The Defense Department has been urging Congress to grant the military flexibility in making the cuts to spare programs such as tuition assistance.
The remarks of Hagan and Inhofe echoed the complaints and frustrations of veterans service organizations who have pushed for the preservation of tuition assistance as a major factor in enhancing recruitment and retention for the military.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will hold a roundtable meeting with representatives of the VSOs on budget issues, vets’ employment, the mental health of the force and family assistance matters, DOD officials said.
Hagel will also discuss with the vets their concerns about the new Distinguished Warfare Medal, which is now ranked higher than the Bronze Star with Combat “V” and the Purple Heart, the DOD officials said.