Army Eyes Dramatic Cuts to Key Education Benefits for Soldiers

Soldier works on a computer
Spc. Jared Wickert with 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, reviews the Army Cool website during an Army Credentialing Assistance Program briefing Nov. 13, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Norm Shifflett)

The Army is eyeing a dramatic cut to the Army Credentialing Assistance program, or Army CA, next year to curb costs in what could be one of the biggest benefit shifts aimed at enlisted troops in years.

Army CA was introduced force-wide in 2020 as a complementary benefit to traditional scholarship programs. Instead of being intended to be used for college degrees, the program gave soldiers $4,000 per year, for civilian credentials -- such as qualifications in coding languages, cybersecurity, personal training, commercial driver's licenses and other skills that can help them in the civilian world or supplement their military career.

Now, the service is looking to reduce that benefit to $1,000 per year and never to exceed $4,000 across a career -- and those credentials must serve the soldier's job, meaning an infantryman may not be able to get certifications in cybersecurity fields -- reverting back to an earlier style of the benefit. That limited benefit would struggle to cover the costs of most quality civilian courses and licensing.

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Those moves are still in planning stages, according to multiple sources directly familiar with the situation, and documents and internal emails reviewed by The Army did not return multiple requests for comment in recent days.

"This is not living up to the promise [soldiers] thought they had," Jeff Frisby, executive director at the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, told "With recruiting, for people who wanted those robust education benefits, now they realize this might not be something they want to do."

At the time the benefit fully launched in 2020, Army officials touted it as both key for soldiers to transition out of the service, making them potentially qualified for jobs immediately upon leaving the military, and for soldiers to get additional skills they can bring into their daily military jobs.

"Active-duty, Guard and reserve soldiers can now secure a competitive advantage -- on and off the battlefield," then-Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, who has since retired, said in a press release when the program launched.

The news comes as the Army has struggled to meet its promise to deliver education benefits to its rank and file, a key recruiting tool.

The service has in recent years had major technical snafus paying out benefits to schools. That led to soldiers paying for college out of pocket when Army IgnitED, the online tool that processes tuition payments, effectively crumbled under the enormous weight of numerous glitches in 2021. The platform was not fully functioning again until last summer and the service has since reimbursed those families.

Meanwhile, some major states have curtailed education benefits for National Guardsmen.

In Virginia, troops must have at least two years on their contract at the end of every semester -- effectively forcing them to constantly prolong their service beyond the initial agreed-upon contract. Texas slashed its tuition assistance program as its sprawling border protection mission's cost ballooned.

"I hope we realize this $1,000 coverage isn't going to cover anything," Frisby said. "That makes the benefit inefficient."

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