Veterans who want to go to college in Tennessee will get help paying for it, even if they don't live in the state.
Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law that would give out-of-state veterans, in-state tuition. It's called the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act. The law applies to veterans eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits or Montgomery GI Bill benefits. Veterans also have to enroll in a college or university within two years of the day they're discharged.
We talked to veterans who told us this bill is good news for them.
U.S. Air Force Veteran Joe Clark (Ret.) moved to Johnson City after nine years in the Air Force to attend college at East Tennessee State University. He used to live in California so he pays out-of-state tuition, which isn't completely covered by the GI Bill.
"I'll be graduating with close to $60,000 in tuition that was spent for my education so if I had to pay all of that out of pocket, there's no way financially that would've happened," Clark told us.
Clark graduates in May and has paid for his education through scholarships.
"Had it not been for programs like the Yellow Ribbon or the Buc Hero Scholarship, I would not have been able to attend East Tennessee State," he said.
Clark told us this law will help veterans in the transition from soldier to student.
"It can be as simple as the weight, or the stress, of finances lifted off a veteran's shoulders who is already coming out of sometimes a very stressful environment," he said.
Marine Corps Veteran Susan Chambers (Ret.) served for four years before coming to ETSU to study. She's currently in her first year as a criminal justice student and has also relied on scholarships to pay for her out-of-state tuition. Chambers is from California.
"If it wasn't for that, I would definitely step back and take a look at it again and really second guess if I want to go ahead and start going to a university that I might not be able to pay off later," Chambers told us.
She will benefit from this law but she told us Veterans Affairs offices will benefit too. Chambers said they can redistribute their scholarship funds to start other assistance programs.
"It's going to save money for everybody in general and maybe they might be able to open more opportunities for other things," Chambers said.
Kevin Flanary, the ETSU Director of Veteran's Affairs, told us he agrees. He said they'll use the money they have for the Buc Hero Scholarship and put it towards aiding the dependents of soldiers.
Flanary told us the VETS Act will help boost enrollment.
"It's been a huge roadblock for vets in a lot of ways," he said. "Lets say I get a phone call from a veteran who lives in Montana or Ohio or something and they want to come to school here, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can pay up to 100% of their in-state tuition but it doesn't pay out-of-state."
Flanary calls ETSU an attractive campus for veterans because of the VA hospital across the street.
Air Force Veteran Joshua Shepard (Ret.), president of the Student Veterans of America at ETSU, told us the hospital was one reason he came back to East Tennessee after he left the Air Force.
"For me it's huge," Shepard said. "Whenever I came out, I had weekly visits."
He told us he also couldn't afford out-of state tuition to go anywhere else. Shepard said he may have made a different decision if more states had paid for out-of-state tuition costs.
The VETS Act passed in the State House with a 91-0 vote. The Senate version also passed without opposition. Governor Haslam singed the bill into law on April 4.