Pentagon to restore tuition aid program for some military

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WASHINGTON -- Active Marines, soldiers and airmen will be able to get help paying for school after all, but it may take the Pentagon time to restore the program.

The Army, Air Force and Marines announced three weeks ago that they would halt tuition assistance programs because of severe cuts to the defense budget, but they have reversed course.

The restoration is good news for mothers like Denise Chontos of West Mifflin, whose 18-year-old son Edward is a Marine private at Fort Benning, Ga.

"My son is going to be devastated. What's he going to do about his education?" a tearful Ms. Chontos had said in a telephone interview three weeks ago when the military first announced it would end the tuition program.

But she was jubilant Friday, when she learned that the program would be restored.

"Oh, thank God. This is such a good thing," she said.

The measure was included in a budget bill, passed last week, that funds government operations through October.

The Department of Defense "agrees with Congress that the tuition program is very important, both to the department and our service members," Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said Friday.

It wasn't immediately clear when the tuition assistance will be available again.

"We are working with the services to develop a plan to comply with any legislation," Ms. Smith said.

Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Upper St. Clair, a fiscal conservative, supported reinstating the program, saying he felt it was important.

"Many service members and their families reached out to me to share their disappointment and frustration with the decision to cut tuition assistance funding," he said in a written statement Friday. "This restoration of funding is a victory for all our men and women in uniform."

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., supported the restoration, too, saying the administration never should have made the cut when there are so many other areas of government where spending is wasteful and duplicative.

The cut had been made in response to $46 billion in defense cuts that took effect March 1 as a result of the government's automatic sequester.

The tuition assistance program provides up to $250 per credit up to $4,500 per year for active military enrolled in college or high-school diploma programs. Each branch of service has its own criteria for participation.

About 350,000 members of the military receive tuition assistance each year at an annual cost of about $500 million.

The program was created as part of the 1972 Defense Authorization Act.

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Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: 1-703-996-9292, tmauriello@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.


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