Central Oregon veterans fear loss of tuition aid

Senate votes to reverse course, but not a done deal

POSTED: 7:36 PM PDT March 20, 2013    UPDATED: 7:37 PM PDT March 20, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

"I was always told if I do this, your country will reward you, and now all of a sudden the government is taking something away that was promised to me 20 years ago," said new C.O.C.C. student Kevin Hapner on Wednesday about the possibility of losing some financial aid.

As Central Oregon college students prepare for spring term, 17 are wondering how they will pay for school--they're veterans who've learned the Department of Defense suspended Military Tuition Assistance.

The suspension will affect more than 200,000 thousand service members across the country.

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to restore tuition assistance, but the fate is still uncertain.

Hapner served in the Gulf War, and while he said he does have other financial aid, he's not sure yet if he's lost any funding from the Military Tuition Assistance. He said he sympathizes with those who were affected.

"Obviously students are disappointed," said C.O.C.C. Financial Aid Director Kevin Multop.  "There was no warning, and we didn't have a lot of time to prepare, students had no idea this was going to happen."

Hapner said he will go to school no matter what, but others in Central Oregon aren't so lucky.

"A few of our soldiers have been affected," said Oregon Army National Guard First Sgt. Robert Jones. "Some of the guys are actually not going to be able to go to school."

Grim news for soldiers that comes with a bitter taste for other news happening in Salem: Oregon lawmakers recently advanced a bill aimed at reducing tuition for illegal immigrants.

"I've had a couple guys come in here that are pretty angry saying, 'So an illegal immigrant can come here and get tuition assistance, but I went to Iraq and I lose mine?,"' Jones said.

Jones added that he understands the two tuition issues are fundamentally different--it's not a free ride for illegal immigrants. Rather Senate Bill 10 would lower tuition for illegal immigrants, giving them in-state tuition instead of out-of-state.

But it still doesn't sit well with veterans who say they've earned the break they should be getting from the government.

"I'm a little upset about it, Hapner said.  "State legislators are trying to put in money for illegal immigrants, I don't like that."

Jones said this suspension doesn't mean military personnel and veterans are losing all funding, Veterans Administration educational benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, Selected-Reserve, Reserve Educational Assistance Program, and Post 9/11 GI Bill are still active.