No tuition payments for soldiers due to federal budget cuts

Sgt. Justin Arnone
Sgt. Justin Arnone

CENTRAL, LA (WAFB) - They put their lives on the line, in exchange the military offers to pay a soldiers way in college. Earlier this month, when Congress and the White House could not agree on spending cuts that benefit became one of the casualties. One soldier just learned his tuition would no longer be covered and is asking some Louisiana leaders to find somewhere else to cut.

Military medals decorate the front of Sergeant Justin Arnone's desk. Some he got when he joined the Louisiana national guard. Others he earned on his deployment to Afghanistan last year, on particularly dangerous duty.

"I volunteered to go over there and we did clearance operations. Drove up and down roads looking for IED's, threat was high. Definitely an experience," he said.

Arnone was also a medic on that deployment. He eventually wants to be a physician's assistant, helping care for service members. He's taking online classes to get his bachelor's degree. His tuition costs are covered by the federal tuition assistance program for veterans.

But his time at the computer, could soon come to an end.

Friday, he got this letter from his college, Columbia Southern University, that said because of federal budget cuts (known as the sequester), the United States Army has suspended the tuition assistance program. Meaning if Arnone wants to earn his degree, he'll need to find another way to pay for his education. He says the education benefit is one of the main reasons he re-enlisted in the Guard.

"Yes I enrolled for educational benefits and health care, but I also enrolled because I wanted to serve my country."

Arnone says the army has a motto - to adapt and overcome. Now he's trying to figure out how to do that.

When he's not at the computer for online classes, Arnone works full-time as a local EMT and part-time as a firefighter. Right now he's says he's working a lot of overtime and wants to cut back some, to concentrate on his classes. But if he has to start paying for his education, he may not be able to work less.

He says he's not the only one affected locally. A fellow soldier is nearing the end of her active service and is just a few hours from completing a degree in sports management. He says she is now considering leaving the Army if she can't complete her schooling.

"Her primary goal of staying in military is education, she can't afford it, just like I can't," he says. "She says if tuition is canceled 'I'm going to ETS and they're going to loose me as a soldier."

Now he's wondering if the people who made this decision know how much their hurting the men and women in uniform.

"Were they ever in the military? Do they understand the dedication that we put?"

9News reached out to Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, and Representative Bill Cassidy. You can read their comments on the issue of the tuition assistance cuts below.

"This young man's story is just one example of the many Louisianian's who sacrifice every day to protect our nation. It is our duty to support these brave men and women as they seek higher education so they can secure good jobs when they return home, and hopefully, transition from boots to business and become entrepreneurs and job creators themselves. Unfortunately, the cuts that recently went into effect will have a drastic impact on our military. I am working with my colleagues to identify an alternative, balanced approach that combines strategic reductions with increased revenues." - Sen. Mary Landrieu

"The president can decide how to meet these budget restrictions he agreed to in 2011. He wants to end White House tours and end tuition assistance instead of putting a hiring freeze on new federal employees or other more sensible means." - Sen. David Vitter

"It's unfortunate that the President's sequester is impacting the men and women who serve our nation in uniform. House Republicans have now voted twice to replace the sequester with responsible, targeted offsets which would have lessened the impact to our national defense or those who serve our country. Hopefully, stories like this one will encourage President Obama and Senate Democrats to correct their policy of inaction and debate one of the sequester replacement bills passed by the House." Rep. Bill Cassidy M.D.

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