U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to request an update and timeline for the Department of Defense's (DOD) implementation plan for reinstating the Tuition Assistance (TA) program for service members. The letter comes after Congress passed a law requiring the Service Chiefs to reinstate the tuition assistance program and recent reports that service members are still unable to access the earned benefit.
The Senators said in the letter, "As an all-volunteer force, during a period of prolonged conflict, effective recruitment, retention and morale initiatives are essential to attracting and retaining professional personnel. Over sixty percent of our service members state the increased ability to pursue higher education was an important factor in deciding to join the military. More importantly, service members have taken their ambitions and turned them into reality. Specifically, in Fiscal Year 2012 alone, service members took 870,000 classes and earned 50,500 degrees, diplomas and certificates. This impressive number included: 33,300 Associate Degrees; 9,600 Bachelor Degrees; 5,800 Master Degrees and 1,800 Certificates or Licenses. These are truly extraordinary numbers, which are even more striking since these accomplishments were achieved during a service members' limited free time. Clearly, our service members' actions articulate the importance they place on these educational benefits."
"We appreciate that the Department will take immediate action to support this requirement and to restore this valuable program. Therefore, we request that you update us on the Department's implementation plan, including a time frame describing when service members may expect Tuition Assistance to be restored."
In early March, the Marines, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard abruptly suspended Tuition Assistance for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. Those currently enrolled were eligible to complete coursework, but no new students were permitted to enroll. The military branches reported the cuts were a result of budgeting issues related to sequestration.
Inhofe and Hagan responded by introducing a bipartisan amendment to the Continuing Resolution Act of 2013 that requires the Secretaries of the Military Departments to restore Tuition Assistance programs and limit the program's funds from being reduced beyond the overall percentage by which the Services' Operations and Maintenance accounts are cut.
The amendment was adopted as part of the Continuing Resolution that was signed into law by President Obama on March 26th (Public Law 113-6).