Veterans service bill becomes law

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ALBANY – Legislation that expands access to the Military Enhanced Recognition and Tribute (MERIT) Scholarship has been signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul.

Assemblywoman Didi Barrett (D, Hudson), chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, sponsored the legislation with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman John Brooks (D, Long Island).

The bill changes the beginning date of the Vietnam War to ensure that New York’s veterans and their families have better access to the variety of programs and services available to them.

“The original bill left out veterans who gave all and that is unacceptable.  Our obligation to any family that has suffered a loss of their father or mother is very important, and to be able to provide higher education to the children doesn’t leave the family with a burden that they would be left with and their loss and suffering would continue,” said Steve Pechacek, a disabled Columbia County veteran whose daughter was ineligible for the MERIT Scholarship under its previous criteria.

Until now, the MERIT Scholarship provided financial aid to children, spouses, and financial dependents of service members who died, were MIA, or became severely permanently disabled on or after August 2, 1990. As of 2019, eligible recipients of the MERIT Scholarship received a maximum of $24,250 in tuition assistance. The new law amends the current MERIT Scholarship eligibility requirements by removing the condition that a service member must have served on or after August 2, 1990, for the service member, their spouse, or dependents to be eligible for the program. It also expands the program to those who were severely injured in training for combat.