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House Passes Bilirakis Bill to Expand Fry Scholarships for National Guard, Reserve Families

July 27, 2019 - 6:00am
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. House of Representatives

House Veterans Affairs Committee member Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., this week had his proposal to expand the Fry Scholarships pass the House. This is the Bilirakis proposal that applies to survivors of National Guard and Reserve members who served in recent operations and died of service-related causes while not on active duty. 

“The Fry Scholarship provides Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to the children and surviving spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty while on active duty after September 10, 2001,” Bilirakis’ office explained. 

Bilirakis, currently the ranking Republican on the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, paired up with U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., the subcommittee chairman, to introduce the proposal back in May. U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the committee, threw their support behind it. Over in the U.S. Senate, the bill is being championed by U.S. Sen. James Lanford, R-Ok., and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. 

Gus Bilirakis
Gus Bilirakis
The Florida Republican was able to roll his bill into his “Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act,” legislation expanding U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) housing grants to the most severely disabled veterans, which passed the House on voice vote. 

Bilirakis weighed in on getting his proposal through on Wednesday. 

“We must do everything in our power to support the families of fallen service members. This bipartisan bill closes a loophole in statute that prevented the spouses and children of Reservists who die from a service-connected condition but were not on active duty at the time of their death from receiving education benefits. These brave men and women have paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation, and this is the least we can do to honor their sacrifice,” said Bilirakis. 

“It is our responsibility to support the families of servicemembers killed while serving our country — whether they serve in the active duty component, the Guard, or Reserve,” said Takano. "I’m proud of the bipartisan work on this bill to ensure these surviving family members get the support they deserve to pursue higher education and a brighter future.”

“We must do everything we can to support the families of servicemembers who died while serving their country, and expanding eligibility for GI Bill benefits is a commonsense step we can take to help fulfill that responsibility," said Levin. "I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle on this bipartisan legislation in the coming weeks and months."

“Families of fallen National Guard and Reserve members who have made the ultimate sacrifice due to their service deserve our support, regardless of whether or not their death occurred while they were on active duty," said Roe. “This legislation would ensure that they have access to GI Bill benefits similar to the families of other fallen servicemembers. I am grateful to Congressman Bilirakis and Congressman Levin for their work on this legislation and their commitment to fight for the families of America's heroes.”

“The women and men serving in our nation’s National Guard and Reserve continue to support our country, in return, our nation should strongly support their families,” said Lankford. “The bipartisan bill to expand the Fry Scholarship to include the surviving families of members of the National Guard and Reserve who have died as a result to their selfless service to this nation is one that should pass this Congress without hesitation. I’m grateful for our colleagues  in the House for their leadership on this bill, and I encourage the Senate to pass this bill in the days ahead.”

“Since 1944, the G.I. Bill has transformed our country and the lives of millions of veterans, including me," said Carper. "Today, it continues to give millions of veterans and their family members the chance to learn a skill, go to college and gain access to economic opportunities that never before had been possible. But right now, there is a technicality under the law that is leaving behind many families of those service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. My bill with Senator Lankford aims to fix that by providing the Fry Scholarship to spouses and children of members of the National Guard and Reserves who died of service connected causes but whose deaths did not occur under active duty. We owe it to these surviving families to ensure they receive the full benefits of the G.I. Bill – one of the greatest pieces of legislation we have ever passed in this country.”

A host of veterans groups including Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) are behind the proposal. 

"Creating parity for Guard and Reserve surviving families has long been a priority for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)," said Ashlynne Haycock, the deputy director of policy and legislation for TAPS. "TAPS was founded in response to an Army National Guard loss in 1994, so this issue holds particular significance for our organization. We are incredibly grateful to Rep. Bilirakis and Rep. Levin for introducing the Fry Scholarship Improvement Act of 2019, which will benefit approximately 1,500 Guard and Reserve surviving spouses and children by giving them access to the same education benefits available to survivors of active duty service members."

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