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Military tuition assistance bill now law, troops still wait for benefit to return

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President Obama has signed into law a spending bill that will reinstate a financial aid program that troops rely on to earn their college degrees and advance their careers.

A day after President Barack Obama signed the spending bill that reinstates military tuition assistance into law, troops remain without the benefit.

Pentagon spokeswoman Leslie Hull-Ryde confirmed to KPCC that the tuition program is  currently inactive and the Department of Defense is working to sort out logistics so it can be reinstated. Service members currently enrolled in courses via tuition assistance are not affected, but new applications are still suspended.

"We are working with the services to develop a plan to comply with any legislation," Hull-Ryde said, via an emailed statement. In a meeting Tuesday with the defense department, tuition assistance program representatives began early discussions on how to comply with the law.

The decades-old tuition assistance program was cut by the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps earlier this month as part of the $46 billion in defense cuts that sequestration put into motion. The move angered active duty troops who relied on the benefit to help them earn college degrees. The financial aid program provides up to $4,500 a year for classes.

Last week, Congress approved a spending bill that will restore the financial aid. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced the tuition assistance amendment to the bill. It had more than 20 co-sponsors.

Marshall Thomas, director of Veterans Affairs Services at California State University Long Beach, said the political back and forth has been frustrating. He has talked with service members who were confused and worried about how the lack of aid might stall their education plans. 

"It was certainly upsetting to people that were using it and for those that thought they were going to be able to use it moving into the next stage of their education while they're serving," said Thomas. He points out that the education benefit is one of the reasons that people decide to join the military. 

About 538,500 service members took advantage of the tuition assistance program last fiscal year. They enrolled in about 874,000 courses. The program began after World War II to help enlisted personnel. In the 1950s, Congress extended the benefit to officers.

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