Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard today joined a bipartisan effort to reinstate Department of Defense tuition assistance programs, writing a letter to the Pentagon that was signed by 45 of her colleagues in Congress. The letter was signed by 42 Democrats and four Republicans from 23 states, plus Guam and the District of Columbia. A reinstatement of this tuition assistance was included today as an amendment to the Senate-passed Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, which will come up for a vote in the House tomorrow.
"While we understand the Department of Defense must make tough choices in the face of sequestration and current budget cuts, we wholly disagree with the decisions to suspend this critical program," Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and her colleagues wrote to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
According to recent news reports, service members took 870,000 courses and earned 50,500 degrees, diplomas and certificates over the course of last year.
The military tuition assistance programs pay up to $250 per semester hour for active duty personnel, or as much as $4,500 per year. But because of cuts required under sequestration, the programs have been suspended by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Navy has not suspended its program so far and G.I. Bill benefits are not impacted.
As a result of the suspension, payments already approved will be made through the spring semester. Enrolled military personnel face hardship and uncertainty in how they will pay for upcoming summer and fall semesters.
"The tuition assistance program must be allowed to continue unhindered," Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and her colleagues wrote. "Our service members have come to rely on support from the Department and Congress for this needed program. We strongly urge you to reconsider the decision to allow the services to suspend tuition assistance and provide our service members with the education assistance they have earned."
"Our service members have made tremendous personal sacrifices for our country," Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said today. "We must hold up our end of the bargain and ensure they are properly served. These earned educational benefits are crucial for our troops to gain further leadership skills and contribute to our military, our communities, and our economy."
A copy of the letter is below.
March 20, 2013
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1400
Dear Secretary Hagel:
We write to urge the immediate reinstatement of all suspended Department of Defense tuition assistance programs. Earlier this month, the Army, Marines, and Air Force suspended all tuition assistance programs as a cost-savings measure due to sequestration. While we understand the Department of Defense must make tough choices in the face of sequestration and current budget cuts, we wholly disagree with the decisions to suspend this critical program.
As you know, tuition assistance programs provide service members the opportunity to better themselves personally and professionally. Service members can use tuition assistance programs to earn a diploma, gain college credit, and even earn a college degree. Not only do these programs benefit the individual service member, but they also benefit the armed forces as a whole. Tuition assistance programs enable soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to directly contribute to the professionalization of their individual service component. As a voluntary program, we applaud every participant who has striven to better themselves, their organization, and their country through education.
The tuition assistance program must be allowed to continue unhindered. Our service members have come to rely on support from the Department and Congress for this needed program. In the Army alone, over 201,000 soldiers participated in Fiscal Year 2012. The number of Army participants shows the value of the program and the commitment to personal and professional growth.
We strongly urge you to reconsider the decision to allow the services to suspend tuition assistance and provide our service member's with the education assistance they have earned.
Thank you for your efforts and for your consideration of this request.