Cuts Made to Education Aid for Military Spouses

The Defense Department announced Tuesday that it is placing limits on a popular career education program for military spouses in order to contain costs.

The program, called Military Spouse Career Advancement Account or MyCAA, will now be limited to spouses of lower-ranking service members, in the pay grades E1-E5, W1-W2 and 01-02.

The maximum amount of aid will drop from $6,000 to $4,000, with an annual cap of $2,000. And the program can no longer be used for bachelor’s or graduate degrees – only for associate’s degrees and professional licensing or certification.

The changes, which take effect Oct. 25, will mean that many fewer spouses are eligible – 136,000, down from 743,000, according to Maj. April Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department abruptly halted the program because it was costing much more than anticipated. After an outcry from military spouses, benefits were restored to those already enrolled.

"The changes announced today reflect a return to the original intent of the program which is to help military spouses with the greatest need successfully enter, navigate and advance in portable careers," Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a news release. "The MyCAA program popularity grew beyond our expectations and became too expensive to continue. Therefore, we are returning to the original intent of the program in a way that is attainable and fiscally responsible."

Another new restriction affects National Guard and Reserve spouses. Effective immediately, they must start and finish their courses while their spouse is on Title 10 orders – they are not eligible while the spouse is in an alert or demobilization period.

Spouses who are currently in the program and who don’t meet the new guidelines may continue participating until Oct. 21, Cunningham said. All currently approved financial assistance documents will be honored.

The changes are expected to reduce the cost of the program by $790 million in the first year and $580 million per year thereafter, she said.

Under the new guidelines, aid must be used within three years. A waiver may be granted if a program requires more than $2,000 up front.

Beginning Sept. 1, spouses may request financial assistance for classes that have a start date up to Jan. 15.

All military spouses will continue to be eligible for career and education counseling services from the Defense Department, Cunningham said.

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb praised the changes, which he said return the program to its original intent. But U.S. Rep. Glenn Nye, a Virginia Beach Democrat, said he is "irate" at the reductions in benefits. "I plan on immediately looking into possible legislative solutions to restore these critical benefits to all military spouses," he said.

The Virginian-Pilot

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