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VA opposes more GI Bill funds for math, science majors

Jul. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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A bill that would pay more to student veterans pursuing math and science degrees than to English or political-science majors is drawing opposition from the Veterans Affairs Department.

Although science, technology, engineering and math degrees can lead to employment in high-demand occupations, VA doesn’t like the idea of using GI Bill education benefits to steer academic choices.

“The bill could create inequity of payments among veterans who have all earned the same benefit,” VA officials said in a written statement to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The committee had the bill on its June 12 agenda for discussion, but no public comments were made and no decision has been made about whether to bring the measure to a vote.

Student veterans currently “are free to pursue programs and degrees that best fit their personal and professional goals, yet this bill could result in higher payments to certain veterans based on an individual’s decision to pursue a specific degree or career path,” VA said.

The inequity would be even greater if a student received extra benefits at the start of their college career by pursuing a highly technical field only to later switch to another degree path.

“Two beneficiaries could conceivably complete the same degree yet have received different payment amounts over the course of their education,” VA said.

However, the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans’ group, supports the bill.

“Degrees in these kinds of programs can often cost more or last longer than other programs of education, making them a less desirable option for transitioning service members who are concerned with starting new careers and supporting their families,” the Legion said in a statement to the committee.

The bill, S 514, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, does not specify how much more a student would receive, leaving that up to VA. Extra benefits would be authorized for veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but not other veterans’ education benefits program. Spouses or children using transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits would not be eligible for the additional payments.

Brown’s bill also would give VA the opportunity to provide extra benefits for other academic pursuits that prepare students for high-demand jobs.

Robert Norton, deputy government relations director for the Military Officers Association of America, said he “appreciates the intent” but does not think the bill is necessary, noting that the Post-9/11 GI Bill already pays the full cost of tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. The additional money might be more useful if it went toward increasing the government’s contribution to tuition and fees at private institutions by raising the percentage of matching funds under the Yellow Ribbon program, Norton said.

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