Small Legislative Error Proves Costly For Some Veterans' Dependents

Texas veteran and education benefits have been a hot topic this legislative session. The most recent conversation was around a part of the Hazlewood Act that was unintentionally changed in the 2011 session. That error translated into an unexpected expense for people like Houstonian Dwayne McAfee.

After 20 years in sports marketing, Dwayne McAfee decided to go back to school.

“Decided to pursue a law degree two years ago with the understanding that I was eligible as a dependent of a deceased veteran in the state of Texas for the Hazlewood Act. Only to learn that past June they had passed legislation putting an age requirement on the Hazlewood Act.”

The Hazlewood Act has been around for more than 90 years. It grants Texas veterans 150 hours of free classes at an institute of higher education. If an eligible veteran dies or is 100 percent disabled as a result of his or her service, the vet’s dependents – meaning spouse and children — are each eligible for those 150 hours.

Any dependent, with no age limitations.

So what happened in the last legislative session?

Dominic Chavez is with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“In 2009, the Legacy Act went into effect and the Legacy Act did have an age requirement. In 2011, in order to make the statute consistent, they applied that age limit to all children, whether they earned eligibility under the Legacy Act or they earned eligibility because they had a parent that was deceased or disabled.”

The Hazlewood Legacy Act amends the Hazlewood Act and enables dependents of veterans to use the 150 hours of tuition-free classes if the eligible veteran doesn’t use them. That act was introduced four years ago by state Senator Leticia Van de Putte.

Ironically, it was Van de Putte who in the last session filed a bill that mistakenly changed a provision of the Texas Education Code.

“In an effort to make sure that we really are getting those students, we put the age that they have to at least start to use it age 25, but there was never any age restriction on those spouses or dependents of those KIA, killed in action, or 100 percent disabled, so we’re going to clarify that.”

Van de Putte corrected the mistake in a bill that was just voted out of a House committee on Friday and is expected to come up for a vote in the entire House soon.

Once the law goes into effect, all dependents of deceased or disabled vets — regardless of age — will again receive the tuition exemption.

But until then, there’s not much people like McAfee can do. Again, Dominic Chavez:

“Unfortunately, (despite) the fact that it may have been inadvertent, it was state law for these last two years and they did not qualify for it and therefore they cannot receive it.”

Since the bill doesn’t mention reimbursement, McAfee will most likely be stuck with his tuition bill for the last two years. He says he’s thankful that legislators are correcting the error, but disappointed that it couldn’t be fixed earlier.

Bio photo of Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...