Bills make it easier for veterans to acquire education benefits

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Senator Leticia Van de Putte proposes bills to make the process of receiving educational benefits more accessible to veterans and their family members at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.  

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations proposed two new bills to make acquiring education benefits easier for veterans and their families.

Both of the bills are authored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, the committee’s chairwoman. Van de Putte said the bills would help ease the transition from military service to being a student for veterans. The bills are pendings, and await a vote from the committee. If voted for, they will go to the Senate.

“From 2009 we’ve gone from 300 million plus to $1.2 billion in education benefits in 2012,” Van de Putte said. “It’s good news — it means that veterans are accessing their benefits. But with that unprecedented growth it only becomes more important that campuses are veteran-friendly.”

Van de Putte’s first bill proposes three changes in policy aimed to better serve veterans in their education and workforce needs. It will transfer the administration of the benefits offered by the Hazelwood Act — offered to qualifying Texas veterans and their families allowing them up to 150 hours of tuition exemption at public institutions of higher education in Texas — from the higher education coordinating board to the Texas Veterans Commission. It will also create veteran education counselors and establishes a state award recognizing universities for veteran education excellence.

“These changes will allow veterans to maximize the benefits they receive from the post 9/11 G.I. Bill — financial support for education offered to veterans who served after 9/11 — before accessing the benefits offered by the Hazelwood Act, and will thus alleviate the loss of revenue experienced by universities aiming to accommodate veterans,” Van de Putte said.

Van de Putte’s second proposed bill would act as a “Hazelwood Cleanup,” recognizing valid exceptions to previous policy concerning the age of Hazelwood beneficiaries and the children of veterans who are deployed out of state.

Thomas Palladino, executive director of the Texas Veterans Commission, spoke in favor of the first bill and said it will help schools reach out and connect with their veteran community.

“The provision will help get word out to veterans about the benefits that are available to them,” Palladino said. “It will help standardize how we do that — how we advertise the benefits — and how we reward the benefits once we have.”

U.S. Army Staff Sgt., Jeffery Musgrave, recipient of the Bronze Star with Valor Device and the Purple Heart, also spoke in favor of the first bill.

“I believe this bill will make a significant difference for veterans,” Musgrave said. “Anyone I’ve spoken with who has utilized the educational funding offered through the Hazelwood Act or acts like it has received a degree of some kind and provides some service that helps better the state. We need to encourage veterans and citizens alike to prioritize education.”