This state gives vets and their families free college tuition — without touching their GI Bill benefits

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If you’re a veteran and a Texas resident who is unsure how to pay for your or your family’s education, the Lone Star State’s got you covered.

Thanks to the Hazlewood Act, Texas veterans who have completed at least 181 days as an active-duty service member can apply for a tuition exemption that encompasses up to 150 free credit hours at a public Texas university.

The tuition waiver covers veterans, their spouses and their children. But only one family member at a time can use the benefit, and the 150 credit hours must be divided up among family members — each person doesn’t get their own 150-credit-hour scholarship.

“In this day and age, when it comes to uncertain federal aid and scholarship opportunities, sometimes they’re plentiful and sometimes they’re few and far between,” said James Kumm, the executive director for veterans programs at the University of Texas, Arlington. “This is one of those guaranteed benefits.”

Texas is a veteran-heavy state with plenty of public universities. Nine public Texas universities made the Military Times’ Best Colleges for Vets 2018 lists and 17 cities cracked our Best Places to Live 2017 rankings.

The Hazlewood Act dates back to the 1920s and is named after late Texas Sen. Grady Hazlewood. Its benefits extend to any veteran who currently lives in Texas and who either began their service in the Lone Star State or lived there before entering the military. Instructions on how to apply are available through the Texas Veterans Commission.

Hazlewood works in tandem with a veteran’s GI Bill to pay for tuition costs. You can stack both benefits together, meaning that whatever portion of a veteran’s tuition that is left over after using one benefit can be covered by the other. A veteran could also use the GI Bill for him or herself, while passing along Hazlewood to a spouse or child.

According to the Texas Veterans Commission, more than 43,000 veterans and their family members took advantage of Hazlewood in fiscal year 2018, to the tune of almost $238 million in tuition exemptions.

“Just based on the utilization numbers, the reception has been great,” said Sue Jevning, the TVC’s veterans education program director. “The veterans are grateful for being able to get an education at reduced cost. We’ve had a great, warm reception across the board.”

It has certainly helped veterans like Mark Barrow, a 44-year-old ex-Navy gunner’s mate presently enrolled at Central Texas College, a community college in Killeen, Texas.

He said that his only source of income is his VA disability compensation. Hazlewood is allowing him to pursue a degree in welding technology at Central Texas.

“It’s been a godsend,” he said. “I’m a single parent, and it’s been helping me out tremendously.”

Hazlewood also helped the family of Domingo Padron, a 54-year-old who spent 28 years in the Texas National Guard. He was looking for a way to fund his three daughters’ college educations.

His brother told him about Hazlewood, and he went down to UT-Arlington’s veterans success center where a social worker helped sign Padron up.

“I was disappointed that I couldn’t give my daughters anything with my benefits,” he said. “And [the social worker] goes, ‘Yes you can.’”

Padron said that his eldest daughter has already used up her share of the credit hours, while his middle child is now working through hers.

Barrow and Padron are just two of the many students at these universities receiving help with their education through Hazlewood.

A Central Texas representative said via email that 644 veterans and 563 eligible family members were using their Hazlewood benefits at that school.

“The numbers just seem to be climbing every year,” said Annabelle Smith, the school’s associate dean of financial aid and veterans services.

Kumm said that 1,152 veterans, spouses and children used Hazlewood in the fall 2018 semester at UT-Arlington. Of that group, 587 were children of service members.

“It’s one of those great ways that they can show that their father or mother served their country,” he said. “This is something they were able to pass on to them.”

Kumm and Smith said that Hazlewood is almost universally appreciated by the veterans who take advantage of it. That’s a big deal, as veterans routinely debate which benefits are the most useful, according to Padron.

“We talk about how the benefits are working for each of us,” he said. “Someone will start complaining about a benefit, and another guy will come in and say, ‘You know, I did this.’ We share information to try to make it work to our advantage.”

So far, he said he has no complaints about Hazlewood.

“I think it’s a great benefit for us who enter the military in Texas,” he said. “It makes a big difference.”

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