Legislation expanding in-state tuition benefits to surviving families of service members signed into law

Politics

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — On Tuesday, Nov. 30, the last day of National Veterans and Military Families Month, the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act was signed into law.

This legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This law expands in-state tuition eligibility for the families of certain service members who died while on active duty as well as veterans who died from service-connected disabilities.

The act was named after U.S. Army Colonel John McHugh, and it helps reduce the out-of-pocket education costs for surviving spouses and children.

U.S. Army Colonel John McHugh was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2010 while he and his family were stationed at Fort Leavenworth. His daughter was attending Kansas State University at the time of his death.

“Today, we were able to deliver more certainty to families who lose a loved one due to their military service,” said Ranking Member Moran. “Military service is family service, and this country has made a commitment to care for the families of fallen service members. This sensible law will allow the surviving families of fallen service members to receive the education benefits their family earned through their service to this nation and greatly lessen the financial burden on their dependents to attend school.”

“Today marks a huge step forward for surviving family members in Montana and across the country who will now have expanded access to affordable, in-state tuition in return for their sacrifices,” said Chairman Tester. “This new law is a testament to what Congress can accomplish when we row in the same direction, and I’m proud to have worked alongside Ranking Member Moran and veterans’ advocates to deliver this critical support to the families of our nation’s fallen heroes.”

“We can’t thank Senators Moran and Tester enough for their work in getting this bill passed,” said Kelly McHugh, daughter of Colonel John M. McHugh. “Education was important to our father, so having his name attached to a bill that will assist other Gold Star families as they pursue their college educations is a huge honor.”

“TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) is grateful for the passage of the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act, which passed the Senate in June and was signed into law this morning,” said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS President and Founder. “The law will ensure that the over 150,000 Chapter 35 recipients will be able to afford to attend the college of their choice by guaranteeing in-state tuition for all surviving spouses and children.” 

The Dependents Education Assistance (DEA) program provides education benefits from Veterans Affairs. This includes tuition and housing/book stipends to the children or spouse of a service member who has died while on active duty before 9/11, is permanently disabled from a service-connected disability, or has died from a service-connected disability.

While anyone who qualifies for the Fry Scholarship or is a dependent entitled under the Post 9/11 GI Bill is eligible for in-state tuition, DEA recipients are currently excluded by law from receiving the same in-state tuition benefit.

The Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act requires public colleges and universities that receive GI Bill benefits to provide in-state tuition rates for students using DEA.

While children whose parent(s) died before Aug. 1, 2011, have access to both the Fry Scholarship and DEA, this law makes sure that families, such as McHugh’s family, are eligible to receive the in-state tuition rate when using DEA benefits.

President Joe Biden also signed four veterans reform bills into law on Tuesday, calling the reform part of the country’s “sacred obligation” to care for military members and their families after their service.

“We prepare those we send into harm’s way, and care for their families when they’re gone, and care for them and their families when they’re home,” Biden said. “That’s a lifetime commitment the nation owes to every one of our veterans.”

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