Should severely wounded vets get university tuition break?
Veterans who suffered severe combat wounds deserve tuition breaks similar to those available to faculty and staff at state universities so they can get on with their lives, a state lawmaker said.
"I would hope the Board of Regents and the universities would agree that a guy that left his two legs on the battlefield in Iraq rises to the same level," said Frank Antenori, R-Tucson.
Antenori has introduced a bill that would require the Arizona Board of Regents to provide a community college or university tuition waiver scholarship to veterans whose wounds left them at least 50 percent disabled. Those veterans would be able to transfer the benefit to either a spouse or a child under age 30.
HB 2350 has received an endorsement from the House Education Committee and is heading for the Appropriations Committee.
Antenori said the bill would prepare Purple Heart recipients and their families for better jobs.
"These people are so economically challenged with these injuries … that their work opportunities are very limited," Antenori said. "We have to do whatever we can to improve their economic viability."
University of Arizona and Arizona State University employees and their spouses get free tuition other than paying a $25 fee, while their dependents get a 75 percent discount on tuition. Northern Arizona University employees get free tuition other than a $25-per-class fee, while their dependents and spouses get a 75 percent discount on tuition.
Because veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, or their dependents already are eligible for education benefits from the federal government, the practical effect of Antenori's bill is allowing both veterans and their dependents to receive education benefits by making use of two programs, said Dave Hampton, a spokesman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Anything that benefits veterans is a good thing and a move in the right direction," he said.
Hampton's department estimates that about 200 veterans would benefit from the bill. Those eligible would have to have resided or been stationed in Arizona and be classified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as at least 50 percent disabled.
David Alegria, a Vietnam veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, said wounded combat veterans have earned such a benefit.
"The fact that we shed our blood on the battlefield should pretty much pay for our education," he said.
With universities and community colleges facing tight budgets, the Arizona Board of Regents has registered as neutral on the bill.
"We are looking into how many people would be eligible for this, but the cost of implementing the program is one of the concerns we have right now," said Christine Thompson, the group's assistant executive director for government affairs.
Robert Puskar, commander of the Arizona branch of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a group that advocates for and provides assistance to wounded veterans, said the state should find a way to fund the bill.
"I know the state of Arizona has some serious economic issues to deal with right now, but we're talking about a very modest contribution to folks who have really preserved freedoms that we all enjoy," Puskar said.