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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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AMENDMENT NO. 72

Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to support an amendment to H.R. 933 requiring the military services to resume their tuition assistance programs, which are so vital to our military's professional and educational development.

On March 5, 2013, the Department of Defense Comptroller Robert Hale sent a letter to the services to provide "additional guidance for handling budgetary uncertainty in fiscal year 2013.'' In his letter, Secretary Hale said that "all services should consider significant reductions in funding new tuition assistance applications.''

Three days later, on March 8, the Army suspended tuition assistance for all its soldiers--Guard and Reserve--and as a result, more than one million Army soldiers immediately lost this important education benefit. There was not a single exception, not one, not even for troops wounded in combat.

The Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines also suspended their tuition assistance programs.

This matter concerns me greatly, and I hope it does my colleagues as well. I understand the difficult fiscal decisions facing our military as a result of the sequester, but I object to the way they are handling tuition assistance with what amounts to blunt force policy making.

I want to reexamine the exact wording of Secretary Hale's letter. He stated that the military services "should consider significant reductions in the tuition program.'' I want to repeat, he said to "consider significant reductions.'' Although his guidance was non-specific in terms of what amounts to ``significant,'' four of our five military services followed with the most extreme reduction possible--they suspended all tuition assistance, indefinitely.

This decision affects lives, real lives of one of our nation's greatest treasures--the less than 1 percent of our fellow citizens who are willing to volunteer and serve in our Armed Forces, regardless of the dangers they are likely to face in the defense of freedom.

I want to highlight one example of the thousands of lives now affected--a young soldier who recently enlisted in the National Guard. His personal story reflects the negative impact the tuition assistance cuts are going to have on our Armed Forces.

I saw him interviewed by a news station. He is 19, but with his new buzz cut, he looked much younger. His military mannerisms were unmistakable he gave short responses, always beginning with a "Sir'' or "Ma'am.''

When asked how the decision to suspend tuition assistance affected him, he said, politely, "I was really counting'' on tuition assistance for college.

You see, this young man does not have any comparable education benefits to fall back on. He is only 19, as I said, and just back from training. As a Guardsman, he would need to deploy at least once to receive some of the new GI Bill benefits.

What do you think he will tell his friends about the military as a result of this experience? What will his family say? And how much warning did we give this young man that he could no longer count on $4,500 per year in tuition assistance?

As I said, this young man was 19 years old. Last month the veterans' unemployment rate for those ages 18 to 24 rose again. It is now a very troubling 36.2 percent. We are in the midst of a grave unemployment crisis and now is the time to invest--not divest--in continuing education for our military.

This is not the way we should treat our service men and women. We should keep our commitments, especially those we have made to those who are willing to sacrifice everything for their fellow Americans and the Nation.

I urge my friends and colleagues to support our amendment to require the services to resume tuition assistance the minute this bill passes. It is sponsored by Senators INHOFE and HAGAN, and it is a necessary response to an unnecessarily harsh and short-sighted policy decision.

The sequester is not a thoughtful or balanced approach to cutting spending, and we should find an alternative. But, until that moment occurs, everyone, especially the military services, must reject the impulse to ``grab low hanging fruit,'' and cut it down, in its entirety, simply because it is more convenient.

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