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Lankford, Carper Prioritize Scholarships for Military Spouses & Children of Fallen Servicemembers

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Tom Carper (D-DE) today introduced the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act of 2021 to ensure surviving spouses and children of servicemembers who die as a result of a service-connected illness or injury have access to the benefits we owe them, some of which are currently tied up in eligibility timeframes that need to be corrected in law.

Currently, if a veteran dies from a service-connected injury or illness within 120 days from release from active duty they are considered to have died on active duty for all benefits, except the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. These benefits include Survivors Group Life Insurance (SGLI), Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP), Death Gratuity, TRICARE for Life, MWR privileges, and burial benefits. This legislation would expand eligibility for the Fry Scholarship if a veteran dies from a service-connected illness or injury within 120 days from Release from Active Duty including National Guard and Reserve. April is the Month of the Military Child, and this important legislation helps honor military spouses and children.

“Our work to expand the Fry Scholarship, which was enacted into law last year, ensured our men and women of the National Guard and Reserve and their families have access to benefits when a service member’s life is taken while serving our nation,” said Lankford. “There are currently gaps that prevent family members from being eligible for the Fry Scholarship if a veteran dies within 120 days of release from active duty. We need to fix that. This bill takes the important next step to correct this eligibility issue and ensure we serve those who served us and gave their last full measure of devotion. I am glad to partner once again with Senator Carper to extend these benefits for our veterans.”

“Under current law, if a veteran dies from service-connected injury or illness within 120 days of release from Active Duty, they are afforded all veteran affairs benefits, except the Fry Scholarship. We need to right this wrong,” said Carper. “Our bipartisan, common-sense legislation would ensure that we take the appropriate measures to fix this inequity and ensure that surviving spouses and children of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice receive the full set of benefits.”

In December 2020, Lankford worked to pass the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020, which included his legislation to extend eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to spouses and children of National Guard and Reserve service members who died of service-connected causes but whose deaths did not occur when the member was 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. The bill was signed into law by President Trump.

Numerous veteran-support organizations support Lankford’s efforts to extend the Fry Scholarship and other veteran benefits, including, TAPS, Student Veterans of America, Veteran Education Success, National Military Family Association, American Legion, and VFW.

“Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors thanks Senators Lankford and Carper for introducing the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act to expand eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to those who die in the 120 Day Release from Active Duty (REFRAD) period. Those who die in the 120 Day REFRAD period are eligible for all of the same benefits as those who die on active duty with the exception of the Fry Scholarship and this bill will bring a long overdue parity to those surviving spouses and children,” said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS Founder and President.

“Surviving families count on the government to provide consistent benefits when a service member dies as a result of their service. This legislation will close the benefit gap and ensure that affected surviving children have equal access to the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, whether their parent died on active duty or just after being released from it,” said Kelly B. Hruska, Government Relations Director for National Military Family Association.

“This bill provides necessary protection and coverage for military families whose loved ones pass away due to military-connected illness or injury shortly after having completed their service. We are thankful to Senators Lankford and Carper for introducing such an important bill,” said Tanya Ang, Vice President of Veterans Education Success.

“This landmark bill ensures that the families of servicemembers who succumb to service-related complications immediately following their discharge receive the same benefits of those who died on active duty. We can never repay the debt to our servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but at the very least we must support their families. The American Legion is honored to stand with these families, and urges Congress to pass this legislation on their behalf,” said Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of Government Affairs, The American Legion.

“The VFW supports this proposal to expand the Fry Scholarship. This legislation would enable surviving families of certain veterans, who were previously not eligible for this benefit, to utilize the incredible Fry Scholarship. Parity of benefits is an important issue for the VFW, and we are glad this is being made a priority,” said Pat Murray, VFW’s National Legislative Director.