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Shutdown Imperils Military Education Funds, VA Benefits

Shutdown Imperils Military Education Funds, VA Benefits

By Adam O'Neal - October 8, 2013

Despite having their pay protected by a law enacted prior to the partial government shutdown, active-duty members of the armed services could lose tuition assistance and funding for other military educational programs if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time. Beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 GI Bill could be similarly affected.

According to the Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown, a document released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, funding for “compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs” is expected to last until “late October.”

“At that point, VA will be unable to make any payments,” department spokeswoman Victoria Dillon told CNN in a statement.

Military tuition assistance programs provided up to $4,500 for approximately 300,000 service members last year; the funds are used to cover tuition and certain fees for accredited higher education courses.

At the end of October, service members enrolled in such courses will have to decide whether to drop out, cover their costs out of pocket, or begin incurring debt. It’s unclear whether they will receive retroactive funds to cover costs incurred during the shutdown.

The shutdown could also affect payments to beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides funds for education, housing, books and supplies for honorably discharged veterans, as well as their spouses and children. Over 600,000 veterans and their families used the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2012.

The VA typically disburses about $5 billion in compensation and pensions payments to veterans, including Post-911 GI Bill recipients, at the start of each month. It’s unclear whether the VA will be able to cut checks to those veterans on Nov. 1, Dillon told USA Today.

Though the defunding of tuition assistance could have widespread effects, a few thousand active-duty military members studying at one institution of higher learning will be spared. National University -- a mostly online, non-profit college designed for working students -- announced Tuesday that it would cover their October and November tuition costs.

A press release from the university said the offer extends to service members who enrolled in courses before the shutdown began. If the government doesn’t offer retroactive payments, the school will credit each student’s account. About 13 percent of NU’s 30,000 students are active-duty military members.

The VA programs that could close at the end of October would add to a long list of already shut-down military educational services. All service branches have already stopped processing tuition assistance applications, and some have stopped allowing service members to even begin the application process. The Veterans Benefits Administration Education Call Center has been shuttered, though other VBA call centers remain open. The Navy College Virtual Education Center has closed, along with myriad educational counseling services.

House Republicans, joined by nearly 40 Democrats, passed legislation to temporarily fund the VA earlier this month. The Senate rejected the bill along party lines after President Obama threatened to veto any legislation that didn’t fund the entirety of government.

Earlier in the year, the Army, Air Force, and Marines briefly stopped tuition assistance, blaming automatic sequestration cuts. Congress reinstated funding for the program in a separate appropriations bill, which President Obama signed into law in March. 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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