MISSOULA — Paying back that college debt doesn’t wait for anyone, including members of the armed services, but a bill bouncing around the nation’s Capitol may soon allow veterans to defer their college loan payments before deployment.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., first introduced the Service Member Student Loan Relief Act last March, though the bill never received a hearing in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Giving it another try, the bill was filed this week as an amendment to legislation funding the Department of Defense, a move that gives the act a better chance at passing into law.
“One of the bills that does move in Congress is the defense authorization bill,” said Marnee Banks, Tester’s communications director. “Over the last several years, we’ve seen that bill pass.”
As written, the Service Member Student Loan Relief Act would make it possible for military personnel to defer student loan payments starting when they receive alert orders, or 180 days before their first day of service, whichever is shorter.
Tester, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the act also considers the disruption that training before deployment and relocation can have on service members.
“When our fighting men and women prepare to go into harm’s way, the last thing on their mind should be making their student loan payments on time,” Tester said. “This bill will allow our service members to focus on doing their duty without worrying about their credit rating.”
Tester was appointed last month to the Veterans Affairs Conference Committee. Composed of members of both the House and Senate, the committee includes 13 Democrats, 14 Republicans and one Independent.
The House and Senate each passed bills earlier this month to address the medical backlog within the VA, and to increase the agency’s transparency. Members of the committee will work to hash out the differences in the two bills and resolve issues within the VA.
“Our final bill must help more veterans get the care they earned and build a foundation for future compromises that help us live up to our commitments to veterans,” Tester said.
Banks said the committee held its first meeting last week and will meet again next week after Congress returns from recess.