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Active-duty service members lose tuition assistance

Tuition assistance programs provided by the military for active-duty service members have been temporarily suspended for the 2013 federal fiscal year as a result of sequestration.

The U.S. Air Force, whose suspension went into effect at 5 p.m. on March 11, is the latest of four military branches to suspend tuition assistance. The decision followed behind similar programs put in place by the Marine Corps, Army and Coast Guard. The Navy has not yet made an announcement regarding its plans.

Active-duty service members who are enrolled in courses will be able to finish their current semester, but cannot sign up for tuition assistance from the military for future courses.

“The tuition assistance program is an additional benefit provided by the Department of Defense for reservists actively drilling or soldiers on active duty,” said Sherril Soman, professor of chemistry and co-coordinator of the Veterans Network at Grand Valley State University.

Tuition assistance suspensions will affect active-duty service members, but will not affect their G.I. Bill benefits, which will still be available for most individuals.

”The G.I. Bill is a program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs that provides education benefits for veterans depending on their type and length of service,” Soman said.

However, for those soldiers that most recently joined the service, the G.I. Bill is not an option.

Dan Bell, president of the Student Veterans Organization at GVSU, said one officer within the organization is ineligible for the G.I. Bill benefits and has been using tuition assistance to pay for her education.

“As of now, she is not sure how she will pay for school in the fall,” Bell said.

Bell served eight years in the Army before he came back to school to study political science, and he is expecting to graduate this summer. “People are choosing to work instead of going to school, which I understand, but in this world it’s hard to get a decent job without an education,” he said.

Steven Lipnicki, assistant dean of students and co-coordinator of the Veterans Network at GVSU, received a message on March 8 notifying him of the Army and Marine Corps decisions.

“It’s going to greatly impact the limited number of Grand Valley students who are using military assistance,” Lipnicki said. “Our best hope is that they’ll resolve the sequestration issue so hopefully the funding is reinstated.”

GVSU has 577 students who use military educational benefits for the winter semester of 2013, including family members of military personnel.

About 532 students using military benefits have served in the military, and of those, 25 are active-duty in the Army, the National Guard or the Army Reserve.

Even though he knows a lot of people who join the service for the educational benefits, Bell said that shouldn’t be the sole reason for signing up.

“The role of the military is to support and defend the nation, and we’re still a nation at war over in Afghanistan,” he said. “If sacrifices need to be made, that just goes along with the job.”

Bell would like to see those affected by the suspension receive an eligibility extension for assistance to make up for the lost time. While it is unfortunate for those who depend on the tuition assistance, it’s just a part of serving, he said.

“Joining the Army is a service and a sacrifice,” Bell said. “Sometimes you lose sight of the big picture.”

For the 2012 fiscal year, the Department of Defense had a base budget of $530.6 billion according to its website, with an additional $115.1 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations.

The military has provided assistance covering up to 100 percent of tuition and fees, but the amount is capped at $250 per semester-hour and is not to exceed $4,500 annually.

The Army had the largest number of individuals receiving tuition assistance at 201,000, spending $373 million for the 2012 fiscal year. The Air Force had 104,000 personnel that received assistance totaling $194 million, and the Marines spent $47 million on 29,000 individuals.

Students looking to access their G.I. Bill benefits should contact the Registrar’s Office at 616-331-3327 or visit www.gvsu.edu/registrar.

Students looking for alternative financing should contact the Financial Aid Office at 331-3234, or visit www.gvsu.edu/financialaid.

rjarvi@lanthorn.com



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