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Virginia lawmakers to hold special session on changes to military education benefits program

Posted at 2:09 PM, Jun 14, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Senate will reconvene in a special legislative session next week to consider a proposal that would exempt some military families from pending changes in eligibility for a state program for educational benefits at state public colleges and universities.

The Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program waives tuition for survivors and dependents of veterans killed or seriously disabled while on active duty.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin and lawmakers made changes to eligibility for the program in the two-year budget set to take effect on July 1.

Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair Louise Lucas said she plans to hear legislation in the special session on Tuesday that calls for clarifying that all students who enroll in classes by Fall 2024 are grandfathered into the existing program prior to the budget changes, WAVY reported.The legislation would also exempt Gold Star Families, applicable Line of Duty beneficiaries, and those wounded as a result of military combat who are at least 90% disabled.

“This budget was a product of bipartisan collaboration between the General Assembly and the Governor. We are committed to taking this necessary step to rectify unintended consequences as we continue to work together to conduct an independent review to find a long-term solution for VMSDEP,” Lucas said.

The Virginia House of Delegates plans to take up the issue in a special session on June 28.

Youngkin wants to repeal the budget provisions that would limit access to the program benefits while directing a task force to study options for reducing the program’s rising costs and protecting other tuition-paying students and their families, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“We’ve heard from Virginia military families and heroes, now it’s time to come together and for the General Assembly to send me a clean bill that solely and fully repeals and reverses the eligibility changes made to VMSDEP," Youngkin said in a statement Thursday.

WATCH NOW: Veteran families voice concerns over changes Virginia made to program that helps pay for college

Veteran families voice concerns over changes Virginia made to program that helps pay for college

Military veterans and their families shared passionate voices Monday at a task force meeting to address changes made to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP). Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin tasked the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to lead the stakeholder task force to review the program after advocates shared concerns about its new guidelines following the approval of the state budget.

Prior to the change, the program run by the Virginia Department of Veterans Service (VDVS) in partnership with SCHEV covered eight semesters of in-state tuition for spouses and children of disabled and deceased veterans. With the new language, the program moves oversight to SCHEV requiring other local, state, and federal funding to be used first and only covering undergraduate degrees.

Two of those frustrated voices were 18-year-old Chapel Ormond and his mother Leslie Ormond.

"That’s why we’re here to share our story because we are not the only families that are in this situation," Leslie Ormond said.

Leslie and Chapel Ormond
Leslie and Chapel Ormond

In just 10 weeks, Chapel is set to start his freshman year at James Madison University.

He and his mother said the joy they had surrounding this next chapter quickly turned to stress after finding out changes were made to the VMSDEP program. They were relying on the program to pay for his tuition.

"I was like you know what JMU is a really good school. Everyone tells me I’m going to have such a good time and go almost debt free and then this happens and it’s like what now," Chapel said.

The pair said they were told because of a grandfather clause they may still be eligible for money in his first year but still haven't received much guidance on the specifics.

"It was very shocking and financially it's just a huge stress because we don’t know," Leslie said. "Technically we’re grandfathered but no one is clear as to what that means."

Yolanda Jackson is also upset with the changes that could impact her daughter, who is getting her master’s degree at George Mason University.

"She has one credit left," Jackson said. "Because of the language of the bill it worried me as a mom because you’re so close," she said.

The Navy veteran drove from North Carolina to speak at the meeting on behalf of her daughter who could not be there.

Yolanda Jackson
Yolanda Jackson

"When we felt, this program was going to change on her it was devastating," Jackson said. "It’s important that we have these benefits, it’s important that we retain these benefits, it’s important that future generations have these benefits."

The majority of Monday's speakers called for a complete repeal of the new language.

Many said while they don’t want the program to impact college costs for other students, which is what universities previously argued it would do, they want a thorough review of the numbers done before any changes are made.

"It’s hard enough to do kind the dirty work for the country of going to war and you want your child to have better and do better and that is a huge encouragement to the soldier but also to the spouses and to the kids," Leslie said.

The 20-person task force began and ended the meeting sharing their concern.

"Please know that you’ve been heard... because what you all shared today is part of the process of making sure that we reverse this language and that we repeal the changes that were made," said one task force member.

The Virginia General Assembly is set to reconvene its special session before the end of the month to discuss potential legislation to address this problem and possibly to return the program to its original format while the task force does its study.

WATCH: They say changes to a Virginia veterans families program 'felt like a betrayal'

They say changes to a Virginia veterans families program 'felt like a betrayal'
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Local News

They say changes to a Virginia veterans families program 'felt like a betrayal'

Cameron Thompson
5:49 PM, May 16, 2024

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