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Government shutdown halts military tuition assistance

MANAMA, Bahrain — While the “Pay our Military Act” spared military paychecks from the impact of a partial government shutdown, tuition assistance and other military educational programs fell victim to it.

Every military branch has stopped processing tuition assistance applications until either a continuing resolution — a stopgap spending measure — or budget to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2014 is passed.

“Tuition Assistance funding for those classes starting after Oct. 1 will not be available until ... funding is released,” according to a post on the U.S. Navy’s official ‘Navy Live’ blog site. No tuition assistance documents will be processed, it said. All Navy College offices are closed.

Marines and Sailors can still apply for tuition assistance online, but applications will not be processed until the government reopens, according to officials from both services.

The Air Force issued a statement saying all tuition assistance for classes starting on or after Oct. 1, the start of Fiscal 2014, would be suspended until further notice.

“Airmen with approved TA for FY14 may incur debt with their school should they attend classes,” Kimberly Yates, with the Air Force force development office, said in the statement. “Students should take action to withdraw from their current class or pursue using another funding source, such as the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post 9/11 GI Bill.”

The U.S. Army’s GoArmyEd tuition assistance website posted an urgent message on the suspension.

GoArmyEd “will reject all approved and pending TA requests for classes scheduled to start on or after” Oct. 1, until Congress adopts either a budget or Continuing Resolution. That means that any approved tuition assistance requests for classes that start during the shutdown are essentially void, and soldiers may incur debt if they attend those classes.

Soldiers will be able to resume filing tuition assistance requests once the situation is resolved, but will not be able to request assistance for classes that started during the suspension, the website said.

“These actions are unprecedented in the history of the Army’s TA program, but we are bound by budgetary law,” the Army posted on its GoArmyEd Facebook page.

While many soldiers posted comments thanking the Army for keeping them informed, others seemed befuddled. “You would have thought that money for courses starting next week would have been obligated before the 1st,” wrote one commenter.

This is not the first time budget struggles have affected tuition assistance. In March, the Army, Air Force and Marines abruptly halted tuition assistance because of sequestration budget cuts, but the assistance was reinstated by Congress in an appropriations bill, amid an outcry from servicemembers, veterans groups and military advocates.

About 300,000 servicemembers used the military tuition assistance programs last year. Tuition assistance provides eligible servicemembers up to $4,500 per fiscal year and a maximum of $250 per semester hour to cover tuition and allowable fees.

At the U.S. Navy Base in Bahrain, Marcus Johnson, a University of Maryland field representative, said he has been fielding questions from concerned sailors, who are expressing “a lot of worry about when they are going to be able to use their TA.”

At least for UMUC classes, “there is still time,” Johnson said. The next semester of UMUC classes starts Nov. 3.

Other educational benefits have also been affected. Navy officials say during the shutdown there will be no counseling or educational services available, including language and testing services. Even the Virtual Education Center is closed.

simoes.hendrick@stripes.com
Twitter: HendrickSimoes

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