Virginia veterans fight to keep college funding for their families: 'I paid the price with my body'

Poster image - 2024-05-09T185229.893.jpg
Posted at 6:55 PM, May 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-09 18:55:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A group of Virginia military veterans and their families await the outcome of budget negotiations between Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) and state lawmakers.

United States Marine Corps veteran Stuart McFaden said he and other veterans hope the budget includes money to fund the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program and no alterations to how it is managed.

The program, run by the Virginia Department of Veterans Service (VDVS) in partnership with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) covers eight semesters of in-state tuition for children and spouses of permanently disabled veterans or for those missing, killed, or prisoners of war.

"This is going to shape for probably our next 10 plus years of how we live," McFaden said about the budget.

Poster image - 2024-05-09T185246.728.jpg
Stuart McFaden

McFaden served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was injured leading to his disabled status.

He planned to use the money to send his high school senior to college this fall.

"We had already been telling him that I paid the price with my body, with my mind, and all my absences, I paid the price. So that way you can go to school," McFaden said.

The number of people using the program has been increasing in recent years.

Virginia Commonwealth University said it provided a quarter of the waivers in the state and its 2023 enrollment numbers were times larger than 2018s and costs have increased by over $13 million since 2017.

A spokesperson for SCHEV said in the 2018-19 school year at four-year universities over 1,300 students received waivers through VMSDEP and nearly $12-million in tuition was waived. By 2022, there were over 6,600 students enrolled and over $66-million was waived.

Screen Shot 2024-05-09 at 6.13.50 PM.png
VMSDEP Data Since 2018

At this year's General Assembly, the program faced several changes when lawmakers included language in their version of the state's two-year budget.

"All of us together collectively said, Hey, this is not what was promised to Virginia's veterans," Kayla Owen, whose husband is a disabled Coast Guard veteran, said.

Owen said that included requirements to access other state and federal funding options first, pay out of pocket first, and limit it to only bachelor degrees.

The latter has impacted her plans to study to be a nurse practitioner.

She created a group to lobby against the changes and said the move goes against Virginia's compact to be the most veteran-friendly state.

"By removing services to the most disabled, the most, the most vulnerable of those groups, that certainly does not fulfill that compact," she said.

When Governor Youngkin sent back his proposed budget amendments, he removed that language but called for a study to look at ways to improve the program's long-term viability.

Youngkin was asked about the negotiations between the Republican and Democratic-control General Assembly in late April.

"I don't believe there's a disagreement here. I think that in the final budget, we will, we will land in a very, very comfortable place to make sure that this program continues," he said. "It's part of our collective commitment to making Virginia the best place to live work, raise a family, and be a veteran."

McFaden and Owen said veterans choose to retire in Virginia for that reason.

"This is huge for us. I mean, there's really no way to say that," McFaden said.

The compromise budget is supposed to be released on Monday and lawmakers will be back in Richmond, with the plan to vote on it Wednesday.

Every day CBS 6 is Giving You A Voice. If you have a tip, email our team at or click here to submit a tip. You can also leave a message by calling 804-254-3672. Be sure to leave your name, phone number and detailed description of your story idea.

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews



Watch 'The Jennifer Hudson Show' weekdays at 3 p.m. on CBS 6!

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.