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Who Is Holding The Knife In The Back of VA’s Veterans / First Responders?

Without any warning, the Virginia General Assembly voted near unanimously (138-2) on May 13th, 2024, to gut previously guaranteed education benefits to surviving family members of Virginia military veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty or left severely disabled as the result of their service.

Governor Youngkin expressed outrage and with great fanfare signed an Executive Order forming a Task Force to study the issue and provide recommendations to address “unintended consequences” of the recently passed changes.  But were these recent changes and related consequences intentional or unintentional?

Unfortunately, recent cuts to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP) reveals the latest in a long history of Virginia legislators exploiting a legislative loophole to slip controversial agendas through without first informing and engaging the greater public.  Many, including Virginia’s over 700,000 Veteran and Gold Star Families are left wondering if this is even legal.

Upon learning of these drastic cuts to VMSDEP many Virginians are understandably outraged.  Amid the turmoil, several Virginia legislators have since come forward, admonishing this so-called process of “legislating through the budget.”  In an effort to raise greater attention to this issue, Virginia’s Joint Leadership Council of Veterans Service Organizations sent a letter to Governor Youngkin condemning such action, stating that “the issue [of cutting Virginia veteran benefits] is too important to decide behind closed doors.”

VMSDEP Friends were appalled when Mr. “Tony” Maggio, House Legislative Finance Analyst, told them during a May 28, 2024 discussion in his office that this practice of sneaking highly controversial changes through the budget and circumventing citizen due process “happens all the time.”  Mr. Maggio further admitted that he personally pushed these changes to VMSDEP through the budget because he knew the same or similar cuts would not pass through the normal (proper) legislative process.  Furthermore, Maggio made it clear that he was personally not in favor of repealing the language, stating that it would never make it back in during the regular legislative session.

Incidentally, VMSDEP was initially created and modified over the years through the normal legislative process.  Yet, in this most recent case, changes were clearly snuck in through the budget in a very calculated effort to avoid public awareness, transparency, and avoid opposition.  Some have even suggested the appearance of more sinister actions were at play here.  In a 12 June CNN interview, retired Navy Seal and Virginia resident, Jason Redman, indicated that several of his contacts within Virginia’s government informed him that any and all language referring specifically to VMSDEP was stripped from the originally proposed budget language in order to mask and make it harder for legislators to spot any specific changes to VMSDEP.  Meanwhile, the Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees, Senator Lucas, released a statement to the press on 13 June 2024, stating that the changes to the VMSDEP program through the budget was “unintended.”

These recent statements from public officials leave Virginia residents wondering who, if anyone in Richmond is telling the truth and whether anyone will step up and accept responsibility and be held accountable for this disgusting display of legislative malfeasance?

Adding insult to injury, the same public universities crying poor over VMSDEP tuition waivers have willingly and without protest accepted over $200 million in revenue losses due to waived tuition for undocumented immigrants.  The same legislators pushing for VMSDEP cuts have not only refused to mention this key detail, but openly advocate for its expansion—all while sticking to the disingenuous party line of blaming veterans for the rising cost of tuition at Virginia’s public universities.  Additionally, why are undocumented immigrants offered immediate “in-state” residency status while Virginia veterans face a five year residency requirement?  It appears the majority party in the Virginia Senate is fully and unapologetically committed to making Virginia the most friendly state for undocumented immigrants, not veterans.

Changing laws and especially public benefits are not supposed to be easy.   When certain Virginia legislators desire highly controversial changes, they increasingly resort to doing it deceptively through the budget process.  This loophole by their own admission enables legislators to circumvent public notification and engagement.  This is blatantly un-Constitutional, fundamentally un-American, and it must be stopped.

If this pernicious practice is permitted to continue, Virginia will rapidly devolve into an unrepresentative and repressive oligarchy beholden to the whims of a small cabal of empowered elitists who will single-handedly decide for themselves what is best for everyone else.  Didn’t America—and especially the many millions of Virginian veterans (past and present)—spend the last century fighting to prevent such undemocratic forces from gaining a foothold in America?

This is not the Virginia I remember. Anyone familiar with Virginia’s motto must be reminded that Virginians do not take kindly to tyrants!

Virginians must rise against this injustice and fight to restore representative democracy in Virginia by demanding that the Governor and General Assembly make it their top priority, in the 2025 legislative session, to pass legislation making it illegal to cut public benefits through the budget process and without prior public input.  In the immediate term, the General Assembly must repeal, in its entirety, the language gutting Virginia tuition waiver programs and revert back to the pre-May 13, 2024 language.  Perhaps a formal, public apology to Virginia’s massive veteran and first responder community may also be warranted, but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Kayla Owen / VMSDEP Friends Co-Founder

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