Opinion

Congress Needs to Remember Children of Americas Deceased Combat Vets

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Posted: May 15, 2019 12:01 AM
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Congress Needs to Remember Children of Americas Deceased Combat Vets

Source: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Last month, the New York Assembly “blocked a bill that proposed expanding college tuition aid for children of deceased and disabled military veterans” based on budget pressure.  Chances of passage this year are dim.  Similar adjustments have been made at the federal level, reducing tuition aid for children of the fallen from 45 months to 36 months.  We can do better than this – and should for children of deceased combat veterans.  

American children of those who gave “their last full measure” for American freedom deserve better.  Our future is better because of what their parents did for us; their future should be better because of what we can do for them.  At the state and federal levels, a “Gold Star Family Bill” should be promoted to assure full tuition, room and board for surviving children at the schools to which they are admitted.  

The idea is timely, as college tuition costs are high, educational debt difficult to retire, and number of surviving children – as we move into our 18th consecutive year of war – also at historic levels. 

At the federal and state levels – indeed as individuals – we owe a debt to both the deceased and disabled combat veterans who cannot raise their children, and to their families – spouses, children, parents, siblings, even grandparents.  Too often, these families are lost in the mix, weighed down by bureaucracy, not so much neglected by intent as forgotten.  It is time again to remember. 

Military veterans and law enforcement personnel who fall in the line of duty, protecting our freedom and lives deserve fullest attention.  True in New York, it is also true nationally.  Whether Democrats or Republicans should not matter. 

Too often, our leaders “talk a good game,” referencing their friends, family or personal commitments as proof of devotion to these families.  But these families –parentless children and surviving spouses who have lost a soulmate – need more than a nod and thank you for their sacrifice.  Words ring hollow without proof. 

That is why, even among competing priorities, we should hold Congress to a higher standard.  Children of fallen combat veterans, dependents of those who died for us, deserve a higher level of educational, medical and employment training and placement care.  

The Veterans Administration has slipped – not recently but over decades.  Dozens of Inspector General Reports tell the story.  Congress seems both divided and distracted, by fiscal and governance challenges, politics dogging good policy, and partisanship over productivity.  All this does little for families of our fallen veterans. 

Surviving children and spouses are worth full attention.  Today, they receive death benefits, but even these can be partial.  They get indemnity compensation for dependents, disability benefits, and a modest pension – some of which is lost when a child starts college.  Loss of opportunity for kids and spouses often runs deeper. 

For many, these modest benefits are insufficient.  They run from $1000 per month to $3000, depending on pay grade of the deceased soldier, sailor, airman or marine.  The family might get $12,000 to $35,000 annually – to replace a “forever loss” of the selfless, serving parent.  Educational benefits remain limited, depending on time in service, institution, age and other factors. 

Speaking as an average American, even in these partisan times, more focus is needed.  Children of deceased and disabled veterans may earn a “Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry” Scholarship, but not all do.  Educational benefits used to run to 45 months, but now end at 36 months.   Does this make sense?   Four year college degrees are not paid in three years. 

These benefits should track inflation and out-of-state tuition costs – perhaps even private college costs, if the deserving child qualifies.  According to the College Board, average tuition cost in 2018 (minus room and board) was roughly $34,000 at a private college, $26,000 for out-of-state residents at public universities. A federal stipend for children of the deceased stops at $23,000 – ending in three years.  Again, does that make sense?

Third, even as federal benefits could be widened, only eight states offer tuition waivers for veterans and their children.  More should consider it.  Mix, level and timing for children of deceased and permanently disabled veterans is worth intensive review – at federal and state levels.  Renewed accountability at the VA is also key. 

Our commitment to those who rose and never returned should be matched – in every possible way – by a commitment to their children.  This is not rocket science.  We owe the debt as Americans.  Congress should step up, own the issue and resolve it – not avoid it.Some things are worth rethinking.  This is one.