Defending Veterans' Education Benefits

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We Texans are a pretty patriotic bunch. We salute the flag, we cherish our freedom, and over the decades, we have sent many of our sons and daughters into battle to protect our nation. And when those warriors return, Texas takes care of them.

One of the best ways we've done that, since shortly after the First World War, is the Hazlewood Act. This is a Texas law that provides veterans seeking a college education with 150 credit hours of tuition and fee exemptions. And in 2009, a bill I authored made this good law even better – the Hazlewood Legacy Act allowed veterans to pass on any unused Hazlewood benefits to their spouse or children.

I did this, and my colleagues at the Capitol supported me, for a simple reason: When a service member goes off to war, the family also sacrifices. There's no point in letting that benefit go unused – the veteran (and family) earned it.

Lately, however, there have been some disturbing rumblings around the Capitol and the state's institutions of higher education. Some university administrators have complained that Hazlewood, especially since the passage of Legacy, is putting a financial burden on their schools.

This kind of talk infuriates me. After service members put their lives on the line to defend our Constitution, after their family suffers sleepless nights worrying about their safety, and after their children endure months-long stretches without the presence of a parent (sometimes both parents), I don't want to hear about how they are a “burden” on the rest of us.

I take a different view – I don't believe the burden comes from Hazlewood or our veterans, it comes from a state Legislature that fails to properly fund higher education. It comes from cuts – made over my objections in the 2011 legislative session – to the money made available to our schools.

On Wednesday, the Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, which I chair, will hold a hearing on Hazlewood. We expect to hear from university chancellors – who, I want to make it clear, support our veterans and want to find a way to continue helping them. And we will hear from students who have received an education thanks to Hazlewood, letting them reach for their dreams and provide for their families.

I know the money to continue Hazlewood exists – the only real question is whether my fellow legislators will step up and deliver it.

I am happy to entertain a discussion of how we can send more money to our universities. I am not willing to discuss in any way diminishing benefits that our brave warriors and their families have earned.

The hearing will be held on the Senate floor at 1:30 p.m. (or upon adjournment of the Senate) on Wednesday, March 6. If you cannot make it to Austin, you can monitor the hearing online by watching streaming video HERE or by reading the testimony HERE.  

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