Defense Department Comptroller, Robert Hale, recently told the press that the DoD is not planning to cut military tuition assistance back “substantially.” Although this statement may have been made in an effort to ease fears of TA cuts, the use of the word substantially doesn't provide much in the way of reassurance for those hoping to use the DoD funded education benefit in the coming years.
According to Hale, the DoD will continue to look at TA in the context of overall budget cuts. “There may be some trims, but we know it’s an important program and we won’t stop it and we will continue to fund it,” Hale said.
Earlier this year the Marines Corps announced they would stop tuition assistance payments due to sequestration. The Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard quickly followed suit. The Navy was the only service branch to avoid suspension of TA, in part due to the fact they had already taken steps to reduce the cost of their TA program. If it hadn't been for Congress passing legislation to reinstate TA, servicemembers would likely not have the benefit today.
After being ordered to reinstate the program, the services restarted TA, but with new restrictions that would help reduce the cost. For example the Coast Guard now limits eligibility to E-6 and below. Additionally, the Air Force’s 2014 TA program requires Airmen’s tuition assistance requests be reviewed by their supervisors before being approved. All the services are now more closely monitoring TA applications to restrict access for a wide range of disqualifiers, including servicemembers with discipline issues, fitness test failures, or overall substandard performers, first termers, those enrolled in initial technical training programs(MOS, AFSC, and Rate training) , and those who have not completed unit level qualification requirements, to name just a few.
Hale’s statement does not preclude the DoD or any of the individual service branches from reducing the percentage of TA pay to the 75% levels last seen in 2001, which would force servicemembers to pay up to a quarter of their education costs out of pocket.
Stay tuned for more information as the 2014 defense budget slowly makes its way through Congress.