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Virginia Senate creates committee to fix a veteran scholarship program

(Photo courtesy - Capital News Service)
(Photo courtesy - Capital News Service)

Lawmakers took their first look at revamping or repealing language that changed the rules for Virginia’s nearly 100-year-old veterans scholarship program.

Veterans groups say there was little chance for public comment when the bill passed in the spring, said Kalya Owens, the spouse of a disabled veteran.

“So how is it in a year when we have a $5 billion surplus that no one can find money for a program that's been promised to veterans?” she said.

Among the changes lawmakers made is no longer paying for graduate degrees and cutting eligibility for those with non-combat related injuries. Students were also required to fill out a federal student aid form, and the language did not give some students enough time to qualify under the old rules before the changes took effect, Owens said.

Veteran groups favor a full repeal.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the budget bill that included the language, but then said he also favors a repeal when he called a special legislative session. He also set up a committee to look at long-term changes to the veterans benefit program.

Lawmakers worry the program’s price tag rose from $12 million in the 2018-2019 school year to $65 million in 2022-2023, said Hampton Sen. Mamie Locke.

“Unfortunately, some of those recommendations had some unintended consequences,” she said. “Some of them being that it had some negative impacts on Gold Star families and on line of duty families.”

The Senate Finance committee took testimony Tuesday and then announced a working committee to look at potential reforms. The House of Delegates is scheduled to go into session about the issue June 28.

The Virginia Military Survivors & Dependents Education Program covers survivors of troops and first responders killed in the line of duty, along with the families of troops who were at least 90% disabled.

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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