Virginia Extends Benefits to Military Families

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2006 - Defense Department officials are heralding several measures adopted this week by the commonwealth of Virginia in support of the military, including one that will extend in-state college tuition rates to the children of servicemembers stationed there.

Some 3,500 military children could potentially benefit from the new benefit, signed into law June 19 by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine in Richmond, officials said.

"As the second-most military-populous state in the nation, this is indeed a meaningful accomplishment," Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, said during the bill-signing ceremony.

Arsht noted that military preparedness needs require frequent moves, often preventing families from remaining in a given state long enough to establish residency. That made them unable to qualify for favorable in-state tuition rates that often run one-third to one-quarter of out-of-state rates, she said.

"On behalf of the thousands of military families in Virginia who will benefit from this legislation, beginning this coming school year, let me simply say thank you," she said. Arsht told Kaine and the Virginia General Assembly they are "making a very real difference in the quality of life, and the potential, of Virginia's military families."

During the ceremony, Kaine also signed into law bills that:

- Allow children of active-duty military members who are ordered to relocate to a new school district to continue attending the school they attended immediately before the relocation, tuition-free;
- Create a Virginia Military Family Relief Fund that provides financial assistance to families of deployed National Guard and Reserve members; and
- Authorize a "Support Our Troops" license plate, with proceeds to help servicemembers' survivors and families meet medical and household expenses.

Arsht praised lawmakers for establishing provisions that will enable military children to attend a single school without interruption when their parent must relocate within a local area. "Every parent understands that children need a sense of continuity," she said. "Military children face heightened challenges on this front, and this bill is an important benefit for them," she said.

The Virginia Military Family Relief Fund is similar to funds already in place in 22 other states. Virginians will soon be able to contribute to the fund through a check-off on their state income tax forms, officials said.

The new fund "will be of particular encouragement and practical help for our military families at a time when our country is asking them to sacrifice greatly," Arsht said. She thanked those involved in establishing it for helping bring "real peace of mind for so many."

The new "Support Our Troops" license plate is part of a program by Support Our Troops Inc. The nonprofit organization hopes to make similar license plates available in at least 30 states by the summer's end to raise funds for needy military families.

Kaine also signed legislation that allows the commonwealth to accept donated land to construct a new veterans' cemetery in Southwest Virginia and moves Virginia's Department of Veterans Services to the Public Safety secretariat.


Leslye A. Arsht []

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