NORFOLK, Va. (WFXR) — As Gov. Ralph Northam continued his ‘Thank You, Virginia’ tour on Monday, he shared plans to invest an extra $1 million a year to support tuition assistance for Virginia National Guard.
“Our National Guard members make difficult sacrifices to protect our nation and the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “This investment aims to reward Virginia Soldiers and Airmen and encourage more people to join the program. This is a way to say thank you.”
According to the governor’s office, between 400 and 500 members of the Virginia National Guard apply to its Assistance Program each year.
“We are excited to be able to offer more members of the Virginia National Guard assistance to pursue higher education,” said Acting Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Kathleen Jabs. “Guard members have been at the forefront of response to natural disasters, testing for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, and answering the call during times of civil unrest in addition to deploying overseas for Department of Defense missions. This is a way for Virginia to show appreciation.”
Officials say that Northam is proposing to change the program from an up-front, direct award that is issued before class begins to a reimbursement model that is issued after a National Guard member completes a class.
The governor’s office says this practice is expected to not only increase the overall individual tuition assistance National Guard members receive, but also eliminate the Department of Military Affairs’ requirement to recollect funds from those who do not complete eligibility requirements.
“This initiative is a tremendous step in providing a key benefit to our troops and ensuring that we remain competitive in attracting talented men and women,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy Williams, the Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard.
While tuition costs have risen at colleges and universities, the Virginia National Guard Tuition Assistance Program has reportedly stayed at its current funding levels since 2008. With this proposed increase, the program will be able to provide approximately $4 million to those who qualify.
Northam’s office says he announced the proposal on Monday, Dec. 13 in conjunction with the departure ceremony for the 1st Battalion, 1-111th Field Artillery Regiment at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk. Approximately 300 soldiers from units based in Norfolk, Hampton, and Hanover are being deployed to the Middle East.
This news comes about two weeks after more than 1,000 members of the National Guard from Virginia and Kentucky deployed from Bedford to the horn of Africa.
According to officials, more Virginia National Guard members are deployed right now than at any moment since the surge of 2007.