By Matt Young, WV Press News Sharing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Two bills considered during the West Virginia Senate’s Military Committee meeting on Tuesday are attempting to off-set the cost of education for certain military veterans and their families: SB 672, which, if passed by the full senate, would make such veterans and their dependants exempt from paying tuition and other related fees, and the committee’s substitute for SB 701, which seeks to include “children and spouses of deceased active-duty officers in eligibility for War Orphan Education Program.”
As explained by committee general counsel, the previous West Virginia code (§18B-10-7) which SB 672 seeks to amend “only referred to people killed in action, whether it be firefighters, police officers, things like that – or military members.”
Counsel further explained that the proposed bill would now include “service-members, and their spouses and dependent children who are residents of the state and who have a 90% or greater service-connected disability” as being eligible for current higher-education fee waivers. These enhancements would add additional benefits to those who are permanently wounded while in the service of their duties, as well as their family members, while still providing the same benefits currently available to the dependents of those killed in action.
“This ‘connected-disability’ is part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who otherwise meets the requirements for individual unemployability according to the disability ratings of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” counsel stated. “This applies only to injuries incurred since Sept. 11, 2001.”
SB 672 was introduced on Feb. 18 by Military Committee Chair Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke. If passed by the senate, the bill would take effect on July 1 of this year.
“Obviously this bill is going to have fiscal impact,” Del. Weld told the committee. “I did want to send this bill, with the permission of the committee, to finance without a fiscal note, but work with the Finance Committee and their staff, and the Department of Veterans Assistance to get us some numbers on this, and see what we can do with it.”
Before discussing the committee’s substitution for SB 701, counsel provided a brief explanation of the only other item on the agenda, the committee’s substitute for SB 698. This bill seeks to increase the number of members on the Veterans Council from nine to 11, and to “prioritize diversity (among council members) in terms of service branches.”
“The new requirement added by this bill is that no more than seven of the 11 members reside in the same congressional district,” counsel told the committee.
SB 698 was introduced to the senate on Tuesday, and was again sponsored by Del. Weld. With no further questions or comments, the committee’s substitution was adopted.
The final piece of business before the committee was their substitute for SB 701.
As explained by counsel: “It (committee substitute) corrects language which previously omitted commissioned service members from eligibility under this program. Also, the committee’s substitute just accounts for the former Division of Veterans Affairs now being the Department of Veterans Assistance. That’s what this bill does.”
SB 701 was also introduced to the senate on Tuesday, and was again sponsored by Del. Weld. With no further questions or comments, the committee’s substitution was approved.
Motions made by Senate Military Committee Vice-chair Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, that all three bills be moved to the full senate with recommendations that they be passed were unanimously approved by the committee. However, SB 672 will first be referred to the Committee on Finance before it reaches the full senate.