Senate Panel Approves Schumer Bill to Protect Veterans From Losing Promised Aid for Higher Education

June 29, 2011 Updated Jun 29, 2011 at 2:06 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Senate Panel Approves Schumer Bill to Protect Veterans From Losing Promised Aid for Higher Education

June 29, 2011 Updated Jun 29, 2011 at 2:06 PM EDT

(WKBW release) U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced on Wednesday that the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs has unanimously cleared his legislation to protect tuition benefits for veterans that are set to be drastically reduced in August.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, passed in 2008, veteran students were eligible for full tuition benefits at public institutions, or they could receive up to the same benefit amount if attending a private institution.

Thousands of veterans applied to and were accepted by private universities with the understanding that they would receive substantial assistance with their tuition costs.

However, as a result of a 2010 change to the law, benefits for students attending private institutions will be capped at $17,500 in the next academic year – a potentially drastic cut for thousands of veterans in New York and elsewhere, which could lead to unfinished programs or even force some students to drop out altogether.

Schumer's legislation would allow those veterans who were receiving tuition benefits under the 2008 Post-9/11 GI Bill to keep the benefits they were promised at the time of their enrollment, before revisions were made to the law.

“This legislation will fix this inequity and ensure that our veterans receive the full benefits they were promised and rightly deserve. It will make sure we don’t change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Schumer. “With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, we made great strides towards helping all veterans who want to get a college education get one. But recent changes to the law, while enhancing benefits for many veterans, unfortunately cut benefits for others including some New Yorkers. We should not turn our backs on the brave men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and instead should be doing everything we can to ensure they have the educational opportunities they deserve.”

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, significantly expanded the educational opportunities for veterans by helping pay for their tuition. Students could receive a tuition benefit up to the highest amount charged by a public university in their state, which varied widely from state to state.

This resulted in disparities in the amount of tuition benefit that veterans received, with some students receiving less than ten thousand dollars per year in tuition. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 replaced that provision with a nation-wide maximum reimbursement rate of $17,500 for private institutions, scheduled to take effect in August 2011 that made scholarships more equitable for veterans across the country.

However, Schumer said that by failing to protect students already enrolled in school, this new law would rob thousands of veterans of the educational benefits that they counted on when making the decision to enroll in school.

In New York, under existing rules, students at private institutions are able to receive up to $1,010 per credit hour (or $25,250 for a typical full-time academic year) because the amount was pegged to the cost of tuition at high-cost public universities. Under the revised rules, veterans at private institutions, as of August 2011, will only be allowed to receive $17,500 going forward. For veterans at many private institutions, that means thousands of dollars in higher tuition, forcing them to take on additional debt, transfer to different schools, or simply drop out altogether.

Schumer’s legislation will allow students who were enrolled before the new rules take effect to continue under their existing benefits while they complete their studies. This will save many New York veterans thousands of dollars in tuition and allow them to continue their studies at their current schools without disruption or a major spike in tuition costs. The protection applies to students who were already enrolled before January 2011, and sunsets in December 2014. Schumer said this legislation would ensure that veterans get the education they were promised.