A new version of the Vietnam-era GI Bill will require colleges to pay off student soldiers' loans if they are called to duty in the middle of a semester.
President Bush signed the GI Bill Monday, creating a new law designed to guarantee veteran's educational rights. Critics say the bill may become a burden to universities and could cause an increase in tuition for non-veteran students.
The bill will require colleges to pay off students' loans if they are called upon for active duty in the military during the middle of a semester. It also allows students to sue colleges or universities if the institutions fail to refund their loans, and requires veterans to be reinstated at the same academic level as when they left for military service.
"This bill properly provides a modern and fair educational benefit to address the needs of those who answered the call of duty to our country," said the bill's author, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, in a Monday statement. "This is not simply an expansion of veterans' educational benefits. This is a new program, a deserved program."
Capt. Stefan McFarland, University of Texas assistant professor of military science, said even under the current system there are several military programs students can join while in school. They can sign up for the National Guard, or go on active duty through scholarships and receive payment. However, getting the money can sometimes be a difficult and lengthy process, McFarland said.
"The world is a bureaucracy," he said. "There are multiple sources of money available to these students, but there's a lot of red tape to get through and paperwork to process, so sometimes there's a lag in getting these kids the money they need. We try to ensure these kids get all the benefits they're entitled to as fast as possible."
According to current University policy, students who are called upon for active duty have their loan payments deferred until they return, said Thomas Melecki, director of Student Financial Services. Melecki said he likes the idea of students not having to pay for the loan money they didn't use, but based on what he's read, he sees a problem in the law that would affect current and future students.
"It seems to me like the bill would put the payment for covering the cost that the student incurred on the college or university," Melecki said, adding that other students may have to pay more in tuition to compensate.
Melecki said the law could be improved. He said the federal government could refund loans taken out by students and give the money back to the universities.
"When these kids are deployed, their priority is to us, so it shouldn't be an issue for the university," McFarland said.