More financial relief could be on horizon for veterans

Some schools see a problem with the legislation as they may incur costs.

by Andrew Cummins

When President George W. Bush signed into law the post-9/11 GI Bill last month , many lauded the moment as historic for veterans.

At the same time, legislators in Congress were discussing a bill that would provide even more relief for veterans – possibly at the cost of colleges’ bank accounts.

The Veterans Education Tuition Support Act would refund tuition and other fees for students who are called to active military duty during the middle of a semester and do not receive academic credit, according to the House of Representatives’ version of the bill.

Additionally, the Senate’s version would call for schools to refund loans.

Patrick Campbell, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America , said the new bill is gaining steam and would be another welcome sight for veterans and reservists.

The House bill was recently forwarded to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs from a subcommittee and its counterpart is in the Senate’s committee of the same name.

But the bill has met opposition from some schools, specifically private schools, which Campbell said give contradictory treatment to faculty who are deployed.

“If a teacher at that school got deployed they’d be guaranteed their job back,” Campbell said. “But we’re saying a student who’s a customer doesn’t get their seat back? That’s pretty ridiculous.”

Although it’s not an exact number, Campbell said it’s safe to say that about 100,000 people could be affected by the mandate at any given time.

Even if it passes, the legislation won’t necessarily bring sweeping changes.

Most schools already have a policy in place that essentially does the same thing, Edward Elmendorf, vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities , said.

“Right now, the practice in the public sector among four-year institutions is generally to do this voluntarily,” he said.

If passed, the law may “give some teeth” to a policy which the association supports, Elmendorf said, adding that every member school in the association already has at least a version of the bill in place.

The University is not one of the 430 schools affiliated with the association, but veterans can already receive a full tuition refund at the school, Director of the Office of Student Finance Kris Wright said.

Wright said there are issues with the bill, with a conflict between the bill’s language and past loan precedent. She said she’s also concerned about how the bill would force schools to solely eat the cost of loans.

“I certainly can understand the desire and need to assist veterans, but this does not seem the best way to go about it,” she said.

About 10 to 15 University students are called to active military duty each year, she said, which means fees and tuitions likely wouldn’t go up if the bill becomes law.

Wright, however, said she sees the possibility of such costs increasing at schools with more student veterans.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn , is one of 78 co-sponsors of the bill and stressed the importance of providing assistance to those who have served and may in the future.

“For people who laid their lives on the line and put it all out there to defend this country, I think we need to be in a position where we are trying to decrease the cost of college and increase the affordability of a college education,” he said.

Although it wouldn’t impact that many students at each college, the importance of the bill is immense for individuals, he said.

“To the one person it does apply to it’s the difference between getting a college education and not,” Ellison said.