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Congressman Higgins Announces Approval of Legislation Assisting Veterans & Families Receiving VA Education Benefits

Nov 22, 2021
Press Release
Legislation Ensures Education Benefits and Mental Health Services for Student Veterans and Veteran Dependents

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced the approval of the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act (S.1095), the Student Veteran Counseling Centers Eligibility Act (H.R. 4233), and the VITAL Assessment Act (H.R. 5516). Together, the bills provide support and services for veteran students, as well as tuition benefits for families of service members who are deceased or disabled.

“Servicemembers and their families make immeasurable sacrifices to serve and protect our country,” said Congressman Higgins. “This legislation repays a small amount of that sacrifice by ensuring that veterans have access to the support services they need when transitioning from the military into higher education.”

The Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act requires public colleges and universities to provide in-state tuition to the families of service members who have died or become totally disabled. Through the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA) program, children and spouses of veterans who died on active duty or became completely disabled as a result can receive up to 36 months of education benefits. DEA beneficiaries previously did not qualify for in-state tuition available to veterans and other dependents.

The Student Veteran Counseling Centers Eligibility Act requires the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide counseling for student veterans and service members who receive VA education benefits. Through Veteran Centers, the students can receive readjustment counseling and mental health services. The bill also requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the mental health needs of veterans pursuing a college degree. Overall, it works to provide support for veterans at risk for suicide and helps them to achieve their educational goals. Previously, services were only available to combat veterans or those who served in national emergencies and their family members. 

The VITAL Assessment Act requires the VA to establish uniform best practices across VA medical centers to better support student veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life and provide a subsequent report to Congress. Through the Veteran Integration and Academic Leadership (VITAL) program, the VA provides mental health and support services to veterans transitioning to college from the military. These services are offered at universities and colleges across the United States, helping veterans achieve their educational goals. Additionally, the VA must conduct outreach among the Armed Forces, veterans service organizations, institutions of higher education, and non-college degree programs regarding the VITAL program.

On Veterans Day, Congressman Higgins honored student veterans and military families during a ceremony at Daemen College. The college recognizes the challenges students face transitioning to college and navigating the VA benefits program, so it provides services for veteran students and families through the Nancy Haberman Gacioch Center for Veterans.

S.1095 was approved by the Senate and will head to the President’s desk. H.R. 4233 and H.R. 5516 will move to the Senate for consideration.