Testifying before Congress on April 10, The American Legion stressed its support of pending House legislation that would make student veterans eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, regardless of their residency status.
The American Legion's testimony before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity was presented by Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion's Economic Division in Washington.
The Legion supports passage of the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357), which would eliminate financial burdens that are now endured by about 40,000 nonresident student veterans. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill only covers in-state tuition rates, veterans being charged out-of-state rates must make up the difference themselves.
That difference can be quite substantial. At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, in-state tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year is $10,923; out-of-state students pay $25,915 – about two and a half times as much. If enacted, H.R. 357 would reduce tuition costs for student veterans at Virginia Tech by about $15,000 per academic year.
Gonzalez told the subcommittee that The American Legion has heard from many veterans who have had difficulties establishing state residency because of overseas deployments, permanent changes in duty stations, and other requirements of military service.
The Legion has been leading a state-by-state initiative to introduce and advocate for legislation that would make student veterans eligible for in-state tuition rates. Recent victories have been scored with legislatures in Maryland, Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota.
"As a result, 10 states have passed laws to waive the residency requirement," Gonzalez testified. "Another nine states have waived these for some veterans and military family members through university-specific policy changes.... Unfortunately, not all states or schools seem to recognize by their actions the necessity of fixing this problem."
H.R. 357's provisions, if enacted, would apply to all public U.S. colleges and universities that qualify for GI Bill funding. Student veterans would automatically qualify for in-state tuition rates in all 50 states.
"Veterans shouldn't have to assume tremendous financial burdens, or go into deep debt for their education, just because the military has taken them away from their home state," Gonzalez said. "The American Legion pledges to put our full weight behind this important legislation, and encourages this committee to aggressively pursue timely enactment."
The American Legion also supports several other pending House bills that address economic issues for veterans:
• VRAP Extension Act of 2013 (H.R. 562): Extends funding for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) so that veterans using the program are covered until the end of the 2014 spring semester.
• Servicemembers' Choice in Transition Act of 2013: Replaces the military's Transition Assistance Program with the Transition Goals Plans Success program. Servicemembers would attend week-long classes that would emphasize financial planning, job-hunting skills, and how military work skills can apply to the private sector.
• Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2013 (draft bill): Improves and increases on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs or veterans, especially for non-managerial employees.
• VetSuccess Enhancement Act (H.R. 844): Extends the eligibility period for veterans with service-connected disabilities to enroll in certain Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment programs. The current 12-year eligibility period would be increased by five years, but The American Legion would prefer to see the time restriction eliminated altogether.
• H.R. 1305: Provides clarification regarding eligibility for services under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP). This is the only nationwide program that helps homeless veterans get back into the work force. Currently, the Department of Labor will not allow homeless veterans to participate in HVRP if they are living in a residence provided through the HUD-VASH voucher program. This bill would remove such a restriction.
Last year, The American Legion supported several bills to help veterans on the economic front that became law, including the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act, and the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act.