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Veterans' programs exempt from budget cuts, UA veterans still concerned

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Savannah Douglas and Savannah Douglas | The Daily Wildcat Savannah Douglas / The Daily Wildcat Eduardo Gonzalez spends time in the Student Vets Center at the University of Arizona on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. Gonzalez is currently a sophomore at the UA.

With federal budget cuts taking place nationwide, some UA veterans said they are concerned their education benefits will be next to go.

Although there have been assurances made that veterans’ programs, ranging from disability payments to education benefits, will be exempt from the cuts, some veterans are still fearful changes will occur.

“You always have that in the back of your mind. I’m also a retiree, so [I wonder], ‘what are they going to do with my pension?’ I kind of got it two-fold,” said Harold Noyes, a management and information systems junior and veteran of the Air Force.

TRICARE, the health insurance available to veterans who have retired, changed its eligibility policies and cost. TRICARE offers several different programs, such as Prime, Standard and Extra, and the cost of the program varies significantly between them.

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For a veteran forced to leave the Prime plan and enroll into the Standard program, the change can raise ambulance ride fees from $20 a ride to 20 percent of the total cost. Hospital stays increase from $11 a day to $250 a day or 25 percent of billed charges, whichever is less. Prescription costs for veterans increase from $5 a prescription to $17 per prescription or 20 percent of the total cost, whichever is greater.

UA’s Veterans Education and Transition Services center can help veterans out with expenses. The VETS center is funded through the university and is able to provide computers, printing, water and other amenities for UA veterans.

Although the VETS center hasn’t had any complaints about budget cuts thus far, Robert Rosinski, the Arizona legislative director for the Student Veterans of America, said this could change as the semester progresses. At the moment, veterans have other benefits to help with education costs, such as in-state tuition.

“We’re going to keep moving on as we can,” Rosinski said. “The university offers us in-state tuition because we got some legislation passed a couple years ago for honorably discharged veterans … Even if [educational benefits] were to go away, we have
Pell grants and other things. We will figure out a way.”

A.R.S 15-1802-In-State Tuition for Honorably Discharged Veterans, states, “Beginning in the fall semester of 2011, a person who is honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States shall be granted immediate classification as an in-state student on honorable discharge from the Armed Forces.”

Veterans’ education benefits have not been impacted by any budget cuts and there have been no monetary changes to any of the benefits, according to Maralynn Bernstein, the veteran services coordinator at the UA. Bernstein said enrollment of both veterans and their dependents continues to rise and that as the conflicts overseas wind down, more service members will return to school or transfer their earned benefits to a dependent.

Eligibility remains the same as when the programs were implemented and Veterans Affairs is processing requests much faster than in the past few years, Bernstein said.

“I don’t know if there will be any changes in the future,” Bernstein said. “I can’t imagine the government drastically changing the education benefits promised to our military members and veterans.”

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