Budget deadlock squeezes military members seeking education

SAN ANTONIO Sat Mar 16, 2013 9:11am EDT

United States Marines salute from the stands during the American National Anthem prior to the start of the San Diego Padres vs the New York Mets baseball Major League Baseball game in San Diego, California August 9, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Blake

United States Marines salute from the stands during the American National Anthem prior to the start of the San Diego Padres vs the New York Mets baseball Major League Baseball game in San Diego, California August 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - For Airman First Class Stephen Sinatra, the budget cuts prompted by deadlock in Washington have turned his plans upside down.

Sinatra, who is in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Washington, D.C., is taking online college classes thanks to a tuition assistance program for members of the military that has been halted as a money-saving move.

"I don't make much money," Sinatra said. "To be able to utilize this money to go to school and better myself, it helps a lot. That's almost what keeps me to be motivated to keep going in the military."

The tuition assistance program, which provides up to $4,500 per year per student, is one victim of across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that are forcing government agencies to reduce spending. The $85 billion in cuts began on March 1 after a gridlocked U.S. Congress was unable to resolve fiscal fights and find a solution to replace the sequestration.

Comments left on military message boards and Facebook show a widespread disappointment with the sudden termination of the tuition assistance program, which is not a part of the military contract, like the G.I. Bill for veterans benefits, but is considered an incentive to enlist.

"I have seen a lot of people who have lost their motivation to be in the military when they take away the one perk that people seem to enjoy," Sinatra said.

Several colleges have moved to defer tuition charges for the coming term to help military members who are already enrolled, and two senators, one Democrat, one Republican, have introduced legislation to bring back the tuition assistance.

Students who have already enrolled in classes using the tuition assistance program will be allowed to complete those classes, according to a memo from the Army announcing the cancellation of the program.

"This suspension is necessary given the significant budget execution challenges caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration," the Army memo said. "The Army understands the impacts of this action and will re-evaluate should the budgetary situation improve."

The Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard have also suspended their tuition assistance programs.

Airman Michael Bueno works the overnight shift at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, so that he can attend college during the day.

"One of the biggest incentives to join the military is the 100 percent tuition guarantee," he said. "We don't make much money, so tuition assistance is a big benefit recruiters use to get people to join the military."

Bueno said it seems the country is turning its back on the military.

"A lot of people in the military serve their country and protect it, but it backfires when the country tries to take away from us what they promised," he said.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Comments (11)
seagreen wrote:
Sinatra didn’t mention how much money he really makes. Remember, many others will not be furthering their educations either, and they weren’t expecting to do it at the expense of the already overburdened taxpayer.

Mar 16, 2013 9:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
95flhtcu wrote:
Why is there no mention that the gop is the sole reason for this?

Mar 16, 2013 11:05am EDT  --  Report as abuse
@seagreen

Probably the single most ignorant comment I have seen in these comments.As an A1C he makes at most $24K (top of the pay scale), with added benefits , maybe $26-27K (VHA,BAQ etc…).

Apparently according to you, serving your country for lower middle class wages is an acceptable trade for the risk posed by said service.
Consider there are 1000′s of servicemen and servicewomen serving for the same , or less, salaries in combat zones, hostile territories and other areas where ALL Americans are targets, to insinuate that they should give up benefits because they are a burden on the taxpayer is ludicrous at best, asininely stupid at worst.

The military pays forward the cost sof tuition by serving the rest of you that rely to a huge extent , over 60% of all students in undergraduate programs and over 50% in Graduate programs, and allow you the freedoms to be a larger ‘burden’ on the taxpayers. Since the percentages of defaults lies squarely on the non-military loan takers, since we get them as benefits already paid for, the greater ‘burden’ by far is the general public and it’s population. Add to the fact that the vast majority of military people who go to college do so with the Montgomery GI or other GI bills, or VA benefits, they have literally paid for it already by paycheck contributions, or service FAR before they could use it. The government then uses this money to pay for service requested after a number of years.

You have to be one of those peacenik tea-baggers who blame the citizens that choose to serve the rest of you as pariahs to your budgetary cause. The reason the tax-payer is over-burdened has nothing to do with the small number, in comparison to the rest country,of military and ex-military who seek to use their hard won benefits, is due to their immature, ignorant ideologies that they deserve to be treated better than their neighbors and damn anyone who disagrees. They spend and act accordingly and place the burden of securing the necessary resources and goods and services on thos efew you so callously attack as ‘burdens’.

This applies to ALL military personnel in ALL countries on ALL services. Those of us who have chosen to serve the likes of you, and the better ones,by giving of our time, lives, safety and all to frequently our lives, to allow you to post such an ignorant comment, support you as the real burden, for without you and your ignorance most of us would not be needed to serve.

Mar 16, 2013 12:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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