Legion calls for tuition fairness for veterans

At a June 12 Senate hearing, The American Legion focused on pending legislation that would qualify America’s veterans for in-state tuition rate at colleges and universities, regardless of their legal residence.

"The men and women who served this nation did not just defend the citizens of their home states, but the citizens of all 50 states – their GI Bill should reflect that," said Ian dePlanque in testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. dePlanque is deputy legislative director for the Legion.

The American Legion was instrumental in creating the 1944 GI Bill of Rights and in the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008. Current education benefits for veterans cover the full cost of in-state tuition and fees for public colleges and universities. Yet if a student veteran does not meet state residency requirements, he or she has to pay substantially higher out-of-state tuition.

Because of military service overseas or in another state, many veterans do not qualify for in-state tuition. Sometimes, being a legal resident still won’t qualify a veteran for lower tuition rates. In its testimony, the Legion brought up an example of a veteran who was denied in-state tuition in North Carolina – although she was a legal resident of the state, owned a home there and paid state taxes.

The veteran wasn’t granted in-state status because she had not lived in North Carolina for 12 consecutive months. While servicemembers and their spouses are exempt from requirements for in-state tuition, that condition is not extended to veterans.

"Veterans shouldn’t have to go into deep debt for their education just because they stood up to serve," dePlanque told the committee, thus making them more likely candidates "for residency in Kandahar instead of their home state."

The American Legion also expressed critical concern over widespread military sexual assault (MSA) among servicemembers. Because MSA is usually not well documented, the Legion is urging Congress to pass the Ruth Moore Act (S. 294).

This bill would improve the way that the Department of Veterans Affairs evaluates disability compensation for veterans with mental-health conditions related to MSA.

MSA often goes unreported, dePlanque said. "When they are reported, we’ve all seen how these issues can be swept under the rug," he said. "We cannot continue to see this done to the brave men and women who serve and suffer."

Other pending legislation supported by The American Legion includes:

• Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act (S. 6)

• Veterans Small Business Opportunity and Protection Act (S. 430)

• Careers for Veterans Act (S. 495)

• Honor America’s Guard-Reserves Retirees Act (S. 629)

• War Memorial Protection Act (S. 705)

• Survivor Benefits Improvement Act (S. 735)

• Veterans Back to School Act (S. 863)

• Veterans Outreach Act (S. 927)

• Putting Veterans Funding First Act (S. 932)