NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- They’ve put their lives on the line to protect our country, but for veterans who want to further their educations after their military service, there are gaps in funding that some people may find surprising. A new effort seeks to bridge that gap, but it’s unclear if it can overcome an order by President Donald Trump to cut spending for veterans.
“If there were more support, more veterans would actually be encouraged to go further," U.S. Air Force veteran Roger Licairac said.
Licairac is a one of hundreds of veterans who are students here at Rutgers University. There are thousands of student veterans, like him, across the tri-state region.
The post-9/11 G.I. Bill pays for their tuition, and provides a modest housing allowance, as well as a stipend for books and supplies.
Despite those benefits, Carlos Baldwin, who is a Marine veteran in his second year of a bachelor's degree program, said he'd probably have to take a student loan out for his last year.
That's because he's in a position in which many veteran scholars find themselves. In order to qualify for his college program, Baldwin had to take remedial courses to help him transition from military to academic life.
It wasn't the extra coursework that bothered him, it was that the G.I. Bill wouldn't help him pay for it, even though it was required.
"I was pretty upset," Baldwin told PIX11 News. "But what could I do?"
It's a question that Sen. Cory Booker said that he's trying to get answered through a new bill. Called the Veteran Education and Transfer, or VET, Extension Act, it would extend benefits to cover remedial courses for veterans. It would also expand benefits to veterans' dependents.
The bill is the result of requests for action made by veterans at a roundtable conference Sen. Booker held a year ago. He said that Veterans' Day week was a good time to introduce the measure.
"This is definitely a bipartisan branded bill," Booker said. "Something I'm hoping we're going to get some Republican colleagues to jump on board and help us out."
In a public ceremony in September, President Donald Trump signed the largest veterans spending bill in U.S. history. However, last month, in a closed cabinet meeting, he ordered cuts to the veterans' affairs budget.
It's unclear if Sen. Booker's proposal can become law and be funded in the wake of the president's ordered cuts. Booker had a direct response to that.
"The president has proposed cuts before," the senator told PIX11 News. "And we've told him in a respectful, bipartisan, metaphorical way, to go jump off the pier."