Changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill affecting college student veterans whose out-of-state tuition costs are no longer covered should be addressed at the federal level, state Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, has said.
"I sure want to help these veterans," Goolsby, a former Marine Corps officer, said Tuesday, Oct. 25. "We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to afford this. The first question (that) needs to be addressed is why the feds have done this and why they have not restored the money."
"If somebody is going to be given priority it should be veterans coming home from fighting wars."
The GI Bill had previously covered both in-state and out-of-state tuition costs for eligible student veterans, including those at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, veterans have said. But now nonresident students must cover the difference for out-of-state tuition, which can mean about $11,000 to $12,000 a year.
The changes affected about 80 UNCW students from the last school year and another 80 who started this fall, the university has said.
They include Cody Hoyt, president of the university’s Student Veterans Organization.
"I do not hold in-state residency status and have had to take out additional student loans to pay the previously covered expenses," Hoyt said in an
Oct. 20 email.
Hoyt added that UNCW holds the interests of student veterans highly and that addressing the issue on a federal level is the proper course of action.
Army National Guard Sgt. Jason Thigpen of Wilmington, a UNCW student, brought attention to the issue during a ceremony earlier this month in which he was awarded a Purple Heart medal.
U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., attended Thigpen’s ceremony and later released a 7-point plan to highlight the GI Bill issue.
"They have been in the front lines of our nation defending our freedom and values, and the costs of their tuition should be in-state – regardless of their residency!" McIntyre said in the Oct. 20 news release. "By keeping these veterans at school here in North Carolina, we also will help keep a talented workforce here that is ready to get to work!"
Points in McIntyre’s plan included sending letters to every member of the North Carolina General Assembly asking them to change state law and address this issue, and also to send letters to major veteran organizations encouraging them to join in the effort to have state laws changed.
But Goolsby questioned where the money would come from if state laws were changed.
"This is not just a simple, ‘We’ll just change the law and everything will be great,’" Goolsby said. "There’s a huge budgetary calculation there."
North Carolina has worked on its budget and the state’s universities have suffered significant cuts, Goolsby said.
"I don’t know where we would find additional money," he said. "The federal government needs to give it back to the veterans who earned it. It’s a federal government program."
An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which administers the education benefit program, was working to provide information to the newspaper as of press time.
The VA covers up to 100 percent of in-state tuition and fees for eligible student veterans at publically operated colleges or universities and up to $17,500 a year in tuition and fees for those attending private schools, according to a Military.com GI Bill guide.
McIntyre’s proposal included several points to address the issue at the federal level as well, including sending letters to Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., author of the GI Bill, to support in-state tuition for veterans who are not residents of their school’s state, as well as to Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and to the U.S. House and Senate VA Committees.
"Senator Webb holds Congressman McIntyre and his work on behalf of veterans in high regard," Webb’s press secretary, Allison Jaslow, said in an email sent Wednesday, Oct. 26. "He looks forward to reviewing his proposal in detail."
McIntyre also planned to deliver a speech on the House floor Nov. 2 to highlight the issue.
And the congressman noted a website Thigpen recently started that allows people to sign an e-petition regarding the issue at www.studentveteransadvocacygroup.org.