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Virginia House lawmakers repeal changes to disabled veterans tuition program, will work on new deal

Delegates applaud veterans in the gallery waiting on vote to repeal tuition changes.
Steve Walsh
Delegates applaud veterans in the gallery waiting on vote to repeal tuition changes.

The House of Delegates voted unanimously to repeal changes to a program that provides free tuition to the families of those killed on active duty or who are at least 90% disabled.

Dozens of veterans and family members were in the gallery while the House voted. Delegates to completely repeal the changes. The House then voted to add back $20 million a year that was included in the budget to help public universities off-set the cost of the program, which serves more than over 6,000 veterans and their families.

“I'm a veteran myself. And so making sure that we take care of our veterans is my highest priority,” Speaker of the House Don Scott, D-Portsmouth.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin called a special session of the legislature after public outcry from veterans’ groups when the cuts were passed as part of the state budget in May without a separate public hearing.

Though Youngkin signed the changes as part of the budget, he ended up calling for a complete repeal and created a state task force to look at potential cuts.

“We’ll look at what the governor’s task force says and what changes, if any, are necessary,” Scott said.

Meanwhile, the Senate has wrestled with keeping some of the changes in place.

The cost of the program rose from $12 million in 2019 to $65 million in 2023. The Senate set up its own subcommittee to look at changing the program.

The committee took testimony Friday from veterans and the families of first responders who are disabled or were killed in the of duty, who are also covered under the program.

Ella Hestser, 20, of Virginia Beach told a Senate committee that college may be unaffordable if she and her brother become ineligible for the program. Both of her parents were in the military. Her mother suffers from PTSD.

“I'll be in massive amounts of debt, as well, as I'm sure all these other families who were promised this benefit,” Hestser said.

The Senate is scheduled to return Monday, July1.

Lawmakers could bring the session to a close if they chose to pass the repeal language approved by the House of Delegates, or vote on their own bill, which would trigger a round of negotiations with leaders in the House.

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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