By Suzanne Hultin and Jon Jukuri
Before Congress broke for a five-week recess it passed H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which includes a provision requiring in-state tuition for recent veterans.
The legislation, which reforms the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), cleared the House by a vote of 420-5 and in the Senate 91-3. President Obama signed the bill Aug. 7.
The $16.3 billion makeover includes $10 billion to allow veterans who are unable to receive a timely appointment within the VA system to get care from outside providers. It also includes $5 billion for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses to help leverage a greater number of patients, along with $1.3 billion to finance leases for 27 new VA facilities across the U.S.
The bill requires public universities that want to continue receiving GI Bill benefits to offer recent veterans in-state tuition. Veterans’ spouses and dependents would also be eligible for the benefit.
Only public universities that wish to continue receiving funding from the federal GI Bill are subject to the provisions of the measure and would require them to provide in-state tuition to veterans and their spouse and children within three years of the veteran’s discharge from active-duty. Universities that don't offer the benefit would no longer be allowed to continue accepting Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The tuition benefits will not take effect until 2015. To qualify for GI Bill benefits, veterans must have served in the military for at least 90 days or more since Sept. 10, 2001.
Realizing that life in the military can mean relocating often, many states have already taken the lead in waiving residency requirements at public institutions over the last few years. The Post 9/11 GI Bill pays for in-state tuition at an institution but does not cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition, which can be more than $13,310 a year. Although some veterans may apply for additional funds through programs such as the Yellow Ribbon Program, not all veterans are eligible and these funds are often very limited. Veterans without immediate in-state tuition may have to decide between taking out additional loans to cover nonresidency costs or wait up to 12 months to gain residency, which could be the difference between that veteran attending college or not. At least 25 states have enacted legislation and dozens of state university and community college systems have adopted system-wide policies to grant immediate in-state tuition for veterans.
With the passage of the new federal VA reform bill, it is a great expectation that more student veterans who are unable to establish residency in a particular state because of frequent moves or deployments will now qualify for in-state tuition rates at public institutions.
Jon Jukuri is director of NCSL’s Labor and Economic Development Committee. Suzanne Hultin is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Education Program. Email Jon. Email Suzanne.