Melissa Twine’s husband, Captain Philip Twine, was a logistics officer in the Air Force when he was killed in the line of duty in 2002. In an instant, the Batavia native and fellow Air Force veteran became a single mother of four and the sole breadwinner for a family struggling with grief. She put her plans for a Master’s degree on hold to focus on raising and supporting her children. Now, 14 years later, she is finally ready to fulfill her dream of higher education.
The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship provides GI Bill benefits to surviving spouses and children of service members who have died in the line of duty since 9/11, but those benefits expire after 15 years. That means Ms. Twine doesn’t have the time to complete a Master’s degree before her benefits expire. And so many other surviving spouses face similar dilemmas.
This year, we’re going to change that, and we’re going to make sure that families who have sacrificed so much for our nation get these benefits.
Last week my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and I introduced the Veterans First Act — a comprehensive, bipartisan bill to grant veterans and their families expanded benefits and ensure that the VA has the resources to provide veterans with the highest quality of care.
No veteran should face living on the street, exploitation by for-profit colleges, or inadequate health care — and we’re addressing all of these issues with this bill.
In addition to expanding the Fry Scholarship, it will also expand eligibility for the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps students avoid out-of-pocket tuition and fees, to include all spouses and children of service members who gave their lives fighting for our country.
The bill also incorporates legislation I helped introduce to restore the GI benefits of veterans who lost credit or training time because their school permanently closed. We’ve heard too many stories of shady for-profit colleges closing abruptly, leaving students — including many veterans — in limbo. This will ensure that these veterans don’t lose their GI benefits.
We also know that, shamefully, too many veterans don’t have a roof over their heads or a place to call home.
The legislation incorporates elements of the Veteran Housing Stability Act, which would increase veterans’ access to permanent housing options. This is an issue we’ve been working on for years. Last year, I visited organizations across Ohio that are doing wonderful work to give veterans the support they need to get back on their feet and find permanent homes. Even one veteran on the street means Congress isn’t doing enough to tackle this problem.
The legislation also helps ensure whistleblowers at the VA can disclose concerns relating to veteran’s care without fearing retaliation.
And it expands a critical program to support veteran caregivers. As a country, we’ve made a promise to care for veterans in return for their service to this country. That means supporting family members who often serve as caregivers. Right now, 9/11 veterans and their families already take advantage of this critical support. This bill will make that same support available to families and veterans of all generations.
I’m optimistic that we will soon pass this important legislation to protect our nation’s heroes, and honor them with the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic United States Senator from Ohio.