When the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force announced they would suspend the Tuition Assistance program for servicemembers I knew we needed to take immediate action. Last year, 300,000 of our brave men and women in uniform used this program to advance their educations.
While I recognize that sequestration is forcing the Department of Defense to make tough budget decisions, denying educational opportunities to our servicemembers is the wrong way to find savings. We cannot put the burden of addressing our long-term fiscal challenges on the backs of the men and women who serve our country. That’s not the way we do things in North Carolina, and it shouldn’t be the way we do business in Washington, either.
That's why I joined Republican Senator Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma in introducing a bipartisan amendment to reinstate the Tuition Assistance program and sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressing my deep concern about the decision to suspend the program.
In the days after Sen. Inhofe and I introduced our bipartisan amendment, support from national military and veterans organizations, community colleges, and families personally affected grew rapidly. Prominent national groups such as the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) endorsed our effort.
And in a display of bipartisanship that is all too rare in Washington, our amendment passed both the Senate and the House and was signed by the president at the end of March. Passing this amendment was a great victory for our servicemembers in North Carolina and throughout the country.
The Tuition Assistance program is an invaluable resource for our servicemembers. This program gives our best and brightest the opportunity to continue developing their skills while on active duty, which will ultimately lead to smoother transitions into the civilian workforce. At a time of still too-high unemployment this could not be more important.
When the amendment was signed into law I could not help but think about the servicemembers here in North Carolina who rely on the program - people like George Sendelbach.
George joined the National Guard because he wanted to serve his country and he thought it would give him the experience he needed to succeed in college and the means to afford it. Today, he is still serving in the National Guard, and because of the Tuition Assistance program he is one year away from earning a degree from N.C. State University.
As a senator from the most military-friendly state in the nation, it is my job to work with Democrats and Republicans to ensure that our servicemembers like George and their families have the tools and resources they need and deserve.
We must keep our promises to our servicemembers. They have never given up on this country, and I will continue to fight for programs like Tuition Assistance that show we will never give up on them.