New Law Requires Public Colleges to Extend Tuition Breaks to Veterans

Tucked away in a new law intended to improve veterans' access to health care is a provision that has drawn the ire of an unlikely group: public universities.

Signed into law on Thursday by President Obama, the Veterans' Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 (HR 3230) requires those institutions to charge in-state tuition to veterans—regardless of how long they have lived in the state—within three years of the veterans' discharge from active duty. Some dependents of veterans would also be eligible for the resident rates. Universities that do not offer the reduced rates could become ineligible to receive federal veteran-education dollars.

A spokesman for the Student Veterans of America said the previous model, under which public-college tuition policies for veterans were decided state by state, created an expensive obstacle for veterans and their families.

Not surprisingly, veterans' groups have expressed support for extending in-state tuition privileges. Military deployments, said the spokesman for the Student Veterans of America, prevent individuals from meeting the residency requirements for in-state tuition in some states. A nationwide policy will allow veterans, no matter their location, to receive an education at a reduced cost.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the law will save $175-million in federal spending over its first 10 years.

A veteran's education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill cover the cost of tuition and fees at the most-expensive public college in the veteran's home state. For veterans attending institutions elsewhere or private colleges, a cap, currently set at $20,235, applies. But veterans who opt for private colleges can get help with any additional costs through the Yellow Ribbon Program. Under that program, which is voluntary for colleges, the federal government will match any institutional aid above the cap.

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