Bills aim to help veterans in education

(Graphic by Brett Ferrin)
(Graphic by Brett Ferrin)

Two bills aimed at helping active military service members and veterans get into and complete their college educations, House Bill 45 and Senate Bill 16, are moving through the Utah State Legislature.

The Utah State Legislature passed a law two years ago clarifying the documentation that service members needed to provide to qualify for in-state tuition.

Curtis Oda (R-Clearfield), the bill’s sponsor, said some schools used loopholes to charge veterans out-of-state tuition. He hopes this bill will clear up the documentation needed and bring all schools in the state in compliance with the law.

“If illegals can get in-state tuition, so should the military,” Oda said.

Although Oda did not mention the schools in violation by name, he did clarify that Weber State University is not one of the institutions targeted in the bill.

Tyler Hall, WSU Davis campus student senator,said that without the bill, WSU is one the few schools that has a Military Courtesy Residency form to allow service members in-state tuition. He said the bill, combined with the current form WSU provides, removes the requirement of 12 continuous months.

“When this bill passes . . . as long the date of issue of your state ID and your lease is before the date of application, you’re approved,” Hall said.

Utah Sen. Luz Robles, who represents State Senate District 1, sponsored Senate Bill 16, which sets up a fund to help veterans who have exhausted all of their post-9/11 benefits. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which grants tuition benefits to veterans who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The act provided up to 36 months of college tuition, the equivalent of about four school years of college education.

“Who can finish a bachelor degree in 36 months?” said Charlie Chandler, the WSU Veterans Affairs coordinator. “What student anywhere finishes in 36 months?”

Robles said she’s started hearing stories about the issues returning veterans are facing.

“Many of them come in with PTSD; they’re dealing with a lot of family crisis when they’re coming in after their service,” she said. “Through that process they’re losing time, and we think it’s fair for the state for help them graduate with their degree.”

The bill would set up a fund that veterans who’ve exhausted their post-9/11 benefits could apply for to finish their degrees.

“It gives veterans more breathing room to be able to pay for college,” Hall said.

Robles said the bill is one of her top priorities.

“I’m excited and honored to a sponsor a bill that will help our veterans succeed,” she said.

House Bill 45 passed the house without a single nay. On Tuesday afternoon, the bill received favorable recommendation from the Senate Education Committee, and it is scheduled to be heard on the floor this session. Senate Bill 16 is assigned to the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee, and as of today it has not been placed on the agenda.