Bill designed to help children of fallen soldiers
HARRISBURG - One year ago, three Pennsylvania National Guardsmen were killed in Afghanistan, including one young father who had moved out of state just a short time before his death.
Because this move out of state could prevent his children from securing a valuable college benefit reserved for the families of fallen soldiers, state Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) has introduced a two-bill package to ensure that his children –and children in similar circumstances--will qualify for a tuition waiver.
The bills, Senate Bills 1488 and 1489, were reported unanimously from the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Baker chairs, on June 5, and are now awaiting consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Under current state law, a National Guard member must be a Pennsylvania resident at the time of his death for his children to be given free college tuition. Baker’s legislation will close this loophole to say that the fallen service member must have been a Pennsylvania resident at any time during his or her service. Current law waives tuition, costs and fees at all Pennsylvania state-owned colleges, trade schools and community colleges.
This residency issue was brought to Baker’s attention by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) after the passing of Sgt. Edward Koehler, 47, a Lebanon County native who may have technically been a resident of Georgia at the time of his death.
“A tuition waiver can never compensate for the loss of a parent,” Baker said, “but it is one of the ways Pennsylvania has attempted to care for the families of fallen heroes. It is a benefit we hope no one will ever qualify for, but for those who do, we must make sure that a technicality does not stand in the way of helping young people who have sacrificed so dearly.”
Two statutes relate to Pennsylvania’s tuition benefit: Title 51, and a free-standing act administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) called the Police Officer, Firefighter, Correction Employee and National Guard Member Child Beneficiary Education Act.
“The cost of this legislative change is minimal, but it is of enormous value to grieving families who are already struggling with new financial and emotional burdens,” Baker said.
In the past ten years, only two children have been affected by this residency issue, according to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), which strongly supports the bills.
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