Four years ago I met a family grieving the loss of their 16-year-old daughter, a talented young woman who aspired to be a doctor.
I met Capt. Edward Hill and his wife, Heidi, when Sen. Jim Risch and I presented them a Congressional Bronze Medal that their daughter, Shauna, earned before her death. A member of the Eagle High Orchestra, Shauna was on her way home from practice when she was involved in the car accident that took her life.
A competitive figure skater and ice dancer, Shauna was busy working on her Silver Medal for public service, personal development and physical fitness. She hoped to attend Stanford University. So before he retired after 28 years as a Navy pilot, Capt. Hill designated all his education benefits to Shauna.
Shortly after our meeting, the Hills contacted my office. They were having trouble transferring the college benefits to their other child, Haley. Unfortunately, we learned the Navy’s hands were tied. Current law doesn’t allow transfer of benefits after retirement. No waivers are allowed, even in such tragic cases.
This week, I was happy to honor her memory by helping other families enduring such a loss. I promised the Hills I would try to change the law and earlier this year introduced legislation to close the gap and allow reassignment of veterans’ education benefits in cases where the designated beneficiary passes away.This week the House passed the Shauna Hill Post 9/11 Education Benefits Act. The legislation is part of a larger bill improving education benefits for veterans, their surviving spouses and dependents. Monday’s vote was 405-0 and the Senate is expected to approve the bill and send it to President Trump.
The Hills take comfort in the good done in Shauna’s name.
“She is leaving quite a legacy,” they said in a statement. “With all the challenges facing those who have served in the conflicts over the last 15 years, it is paramount that we do everything we can to recognize the sacrifices of these great Americans and fulfill our nation’s commitment to help them and their families.”
The Shauna Hill bill is part of H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act. The most significant expansion of the GI Bill in a decade, the bill is named for Harry Colmery, a WWI veteran who was the principal architect of the original GI Bill passed in 1944.
The Colmery Act helps veterans invest in themselves through education. For the first time, benefits will last a lifetime and not be restricted to 15 years after completion of service. The bill provides full eligibility to all post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients and gives veterans a better shot at degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Veterans make the most of the opportunity. They are more likely than non-veterans to graduate, have higher GPAs and earn rigorous degrees in STEM, business and health professions.
As the Hills said so well, we must do everything we can to recognize the sacrifices of those who serve. It is humbling to have played a role in honoring Shauna Hill and helping veterans in the years to come.