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McKeon makes gains for California veterans

Committee passes amendment to ensure state's veterans get equal educational benefits

Posted: July 21, 2009 3:00 p.m.
Updated: July 21, 2009 3:00 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In an ongoing legislative battle on behalf of veterans in California and a number of other states, Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) today successfully included an amendment during an Education and Labor Committee markup of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221) to require the Secretary of Education to provide tuition grants to make up for the post-9/11 GI bill's California glitch.

This amendment creates a supplemental grant to ensure that veterans in states such as California, with low public institution tuition rates, are able to take full advantage of their maximum educational benefit. T

his has been a continuing issue, which prompted McKeon to introduce the Veterans Educational Equity Act (H.R. 2474) earlier this year to also help ease the disparity in education funding for veterans.

"It's unfortunate that my amendment was necessary today, but I am optimistic that we can move it forward and help California and other veterans across the country pursue the college education of their choice, as they deserve for their service," McKeon said. "This is a technical issue with the Post 9/11 G.I. bill that has been poorly interpreted against the intent of Congress, which is negatively impacting thousands of our nation's deserving veterans."

In California, public institutions of higher education are not allowed to charge tuition to in-state residents. Because California's public institutions of higher education charge no tuition, their fees are often considerably higher - for example, the highest-charging public institution charges roughly $6,500 in fees per term.

Under the current interpretation of the Post-9/11 GI bill, a veteran attending a private institution such as Stanford University - with tuition of about $37,000 and fees of $1,000 - receives $0 in tuition payments and only $1,000 in fees, leaving approximately $12,000 unused.

McKeon's amendment allows the Secretaries of Education and Veterans Affairs to provide a supplemental grant to veterans impacted by zero or low-tuition policies up to the maximum amount charged in tuition and fees to an in-state resident at a public institution of higher education.

In the California example, the veteran could receive a supplemental grant in the amount of the unused $12,000. Under this amendment, the Secretaries would work together to ensure that veterans attending other low-tuition states also do not see the effects of this misinterpretation of the law.

For example, a veteran in Massachusetts attending Boston College would be charged $9,600 per term in tuition and approximately $515 per term in fees. In Massachusetts, the veteran is eligible for a Post-9/11 GI bill benefit of $858 per term in tuition and $5,900 per term in fees.

Of that total amount, the veteran would use all of the tuition payment eligibility but only $1,030 of the total amount of funds available in fees. Therefore, approximately $5,385 per term would be left unused by this veteran and could be awarded in the form of a supplemental grant under this amendment.

In May, Reps. McKeon and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced bipartisan legislation, the Veterans Educational Equity Act (H.R. 2474), which would ensure California veterans can benefit from the full amount to which they are entitled. The bill currently has 47 cosponsors on both sides of the aisle and support from veterans and stakeholders.

"Fixing this issue with the Post-9/11 GI bill means a lot to the state, the California delegation, and our nation's veterans." McKeon said. "We are nearing the Aug. 1 deadline, when checks are dispersed to our nation's veterans. Without a fix, many of our courageous veterans will be unpleasantly surprised when they don't receive the education dollars they were expecting."

Last month in a separate House Education & Labor Committee hearing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that fixing the problem is a "no-brainer," when McKeon asked for his thoughts.



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