State lawmakers meeting this week about changes to the Virginia military tuition program

ROANOKE, Va. – Virginia lawmakers are slated to meet later this week to discuss possibly repealing changes made to the state’s military tuition program.

The meeting comes after a public hearing where military members’ loved ones expressed their frustrations over the changes that were made to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program.

The Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program provides eight semesters of in-state tuition for children and spouses of military members killed or disabled because of their service.

However, there were concerns that the financial impacts of the program were becoming too much for public colleges and universities. So, the eligibility requirements were changed last month by the Commonwealth’s General Assembly and the Governor.

Families are now required to fill out the FAFSA, and the military tuition program will only kick in after you pay your family contribution.

Out-of-state students would be able to apply if the changes pass on June 28. The changes made to the benefit back in the Spring that are being possibly changed this week required students to establish a domicile in Virginia to qualify for the benefit, according to Del. Sam Rasoul.

Rasoul’s office told 10 News that the VA Code defines domicile as “the present, fixed home of an individual to which he returns following temporary absences and at which he intends to stay indefinitely. No individual may have more than one domicile at a time. Domicile, once established, is not affected by (i) mere transient or temporary physical presence outside the Commonwealth or (ii) the establishment and maintenance of a place of residence outside the Commonwealth for the purpose of maintaining a joint household with an active duty United States military spouse.”

A group opposing the changes, VMSDEP Friends, said military members are furious over these changes.

“We’re more than a month out from the budget being signed. People who are supposed to be sending their kids to college in the fall don’t know whether they’re covered or not. They have no idea if they are going to have to come up with their tuition money. The fact that we’ve been in limbo for so long is causing emotional distress and harm to people that in many instances already have PTSD and are already vulnerable,” said Co-Founder Kayla Owen with VMSDEP Friends.

Owen said she is opposed to the fact that the legislation was changed through the state’s budget and without any stakeholder input.

She also said she would have benefited from the state’s military tuition program. Owen said she was planning on going back to school to be a nurse practitioner.

The Virginia House of Delegates is slated to meet on June 28 in Richmond about possibly repealing changes to the program.

Delegate Sam Rasoul said his personal goal is to repeal the language of the law. He said when they heard public testimony from military members’ loved ones about the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, that factored into the decision to consider a repeal.

Sam Rasoul has this message for military members and their loved ones.

“A lot of us want to ensure—especially in the House—that we are hitting reset trying to make sure that the program is sustainable moving forward and that we’re here to help our Virginia veterans, the families of Virginia disabled veterans, and make sure that our tax dollars are helping us first and foremost,” said Rasoul.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Senate is scheduled to meet on July 1. State Senator Mark Obenshain, who sits on the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, said we need to look at ways to reduce the program costs, but the changes need to be repealed.

“We just can’t cut off the eligibility of survivors of fallen veterans without giving a hearing without trying to figure out the extent of the impact that these changes are gonna have,” said Obenshain.

Obenshain said he hopes the House and Senate will repeal the changes to the program, and then he hopes it will head to the Governor on July 1.

About the Author

Keshia Lynn is a Multimedia Journalist for WSLS. She was born and raised in Maryland and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Society from American University and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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