Lawmakers took steps Thursday to close a loophole in its definition of veterans that allows cadets enrolled at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, for at least 90 days, to take advantage of the state’s free in-state tuition policy.
State Rep. Ted Graziani, co-chairman of the legislature’s Select Committee on Veterans Affairs, said Friday that an estimated three to 11 cadets previously enrolled at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London have tried to take advantage of the state’s tuition waiver.
“Unfortunately, when a positive policy is made to help those who have earned it, there are always those who seek to benefit without earning that right,“ Graziani said. “Without a doubt, I would not want the hard-earned consideration of veterans to be devalued.”
“It also impacts the morale of the cadets,” he said.
He said the definition of veteran currently applies to these cadets even if they are expelled or discharged from the academy after a few months. He said it doesn’t apply if they received a dishonorable discharge, which typically results after a criminal investigation.
Based on a research report, U.S. military academies can use any type of discharge when expelling a student, even students expelled for cheating, for example, usually receive honorable discharges.
He said the tuition waiver currently applies to all veterans who served honorably on active duty during wartime and federal regulations define active duty to include time spent as a cadet.
He said the legislature is trying to work with officials at the Coast Guard Academy to rectify the situation, however, officials at the academy have not been all that cooperative.
Graziani said the academy agreed to testify in person Thursday only if officials from other military academies were present. He said was disappointed in their response to the request for a face-to-face dialogue, however, they did agree to answer questions submitted in writing.
At Thursday’s meeting, Graziani said Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz offered some solutions to the dilemma including adopting federal language which excludes “active duty for training,” as part of the definition. Cadets at the academy fall under the definition of “active duty for training.”
“The testimony provided by Commissioner Schwartz today was very useful,” Sen. Andrew Maynard, said in a press release. “The committee feels it will be helpful in drafting appropriate language to adjust our law and make this benefit available only to those persons it was intended to help—our servicemen and women on active duty during a time of war.”
Since the Select Committee of Veteran’s Affairs has no power to bring a bill to the floor of the House or Senate, it must forward the proposed legislation to a standing committee. Graziani said in this case the legislature’s Higher Education Committee has agreed to raise the legislation.
Graziani said the committee started investigating the matter after an investigation by The Day of New London, which uncovered the loophole after speaking with Coast Guard host families.