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Military & Veterans' Issues

Restrictions On Hazlewood, Proposed By A Vet, Has Many Veterans And Lawmakers Crying Foul

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Eileen Pace
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Just ahead of Memorial Day, a day meant to remember all those who died serving this nation in the armed forces, veterans in the Texas House are gearing up for a fight over a bill that limits those who could make use of a state tuition relief program known as the Hazlewood Act.

The bill by retired Army Colonel, Senator Brian Birdwell, a Republican from Grandbury, would make changes to the program, which offers qualifying veterans and their families’ education benefits, primarily a substantial number of hours of tuition exemption at state-funded colleges and public universities in Texas.

Currently when veterans don’t use state tuition benefits, they can pass on that benefit to their children.

Birdwell says that until now, there weren’t many regulations on who was eligible and when. “So to try and put some parameters on it, we went back and looked back at what the federal program guidelines for similar [programs] providing benefits to — they don’t call it legacy but  — to your dependents, heirs and the like,” said Birdwell.

Under the bill, Birdwell says veterans would be required to serve at least six years before being able to transfer those tuition benefits to their children or spouse. The benefits would also expire after 15 years. The legislation would also prohibit anyone from collecting a portion of tuition benefits unless they had lived in Texas for the last eight years.

Birdwell says the bill was inspired by a federal lawsuit filed by a veteran living in Houston, “who sued the State of Texas who says I’m a veteran, I should be getting my tuition paid for free.” “The federal judge sided with him and against the State of Texas and based upon him … there is nothing that will make this program go away simply because there is no way the State of Texas could simply fund [it all],” Birdwell added.

But some of those in the Legislature don’t necessarily see eye to eye with Birdwell. San Antonio Democratic Representative Joe Farias is also a veteran. He says just in San Antonio alone, there are more than 155,000 veterans, and another 1.6 million veterans statewide. “And now we are asking that we are able to continue to be able to pass on those benefits that we sacrificed our lives for, to be able to give it to our children. And to be able to go in and take it from our children is totally uncalled for,” says Farias.

Many state colleges and universities claim they are losing money because of the lack of restrictions or program oversight. Farias points to how the numbers provided by the Legislative Budget Board and the Higher Education Coordinating Board don’t match when it comes to the number of “legacy” students taking advantage of the program and how much state money colleges are using.

He asks that his legislative colleagues put this bill back on the shelf and study the issue during the interim session.

Texas veterans like Ray Linder, with the National Guard Association of Texas, testified about how the bill’s service restrictions could hurt National Guard troops and their families. The Guard typically have shorter service records. “Which means no one on the guard that has served one tour, two tours, or even three tours on active duty would be eligible.”

The bill waits on a vote before the Texas House.