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Tuition aid flows again to Army, Air Force troops but Marines slow to follow new law

The Army and Air Force have reopened their Tuition Assistance pipelines to service members — following a Congressional mandate — yet similar funding remains stalled within the Marine Corps, a leading veterans’ advocate complained Wednesday.

The federal sequestration had previously blockaded all money that’s normally funneled to troops to help them pay for college classes in order to further their educations and their military careers. In most branches, that tab reaches $4,500 per year for each service member who takes the classes.

On March 21, Congress voted to order the Defense Department to locate the necessary funding to relaunch Tuition Assistance across the branches. That directive has now become law. Navy leaders had already opted to keep that program alive for sailors despite sequestration, “and we’re quite proud of that, too,” said Lt. Shawn Eklund, a Navy spokesman.

At midnight Tuesday, the Army turned on the web portal used by soldiers to formally ask for Tuition Assistance money.

“This will allow soldiers to request Tuition Assistance for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. For the balance of (this year), the eligibility rules for use of TA, the $250 semester-hour cap, and the annual ceiling of $4,500 remain unchanged,” said Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, an Army spokesman.

On Wednesday, the Air Force also reinstated Tuition Assistance for its members, said Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley.

"The program is going to remain exactly the same as it was before the suspension," Tingley said. 

Marine Corps public affairs officers didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions on when that branch will again offer Tuition Assistance.

“Here’s the issue: It’s been passed by Congress and signed by the president. There’s no reason this shouldn’t (already) be reinstated at the branch level,” said Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, a support network with more than 500 campus chapters.

At some military posts, including North Carolina’s Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, the attendance of Marines who once used on-base college classes has been cut by more than half since DOD halted all tuition help amid the sequestration, Dakduk said.

“It’s absolutely extreme,” he added. “And that’s exactly kind of thing we don’t want to see as far as supporting service members. Especially as our military force in total begins to draw down and we have folks exit the military.”