Upheld: Residency-At-Enlistment for Free College for Texas Veterans

Getty Images
Getty Images

The Texas Hazlewood Act gives veterans, and in certain instances their children and their spouses, up to 150 hours of free tuition. An appellate court has upheld a challenge to the Act’s residency-at-enlistment requirement holding the provision is constitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit also held that the condition did not infringe on the Plaintiff’s right to travel. Moreover, the Court opined, “Without a clearer indication from the Supreme Court that Texas’s decisions violate constitutional provisions, we are hesitant to impose further restrictions on the sovereign power of the State to regulate its own education system.”

The Act applies to honorably discharged veterans who enlisted in Texas, was a resident of Texas, or designated Texas as “Home of Record,” at the time of entry into active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

A federal district judge struck down a provision in the Act that provides that veterans may receive benefits only if they enlisted when they where living in Texas saying it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Plaintiff argued that the Act denied him equal protection of the laws and violated his constitutional right to travel from state to state. The State of Texas appealed that ruling.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit opined, “Because Texas has presented a rational basis for its residency-at-enlistment requirement and because Texas’s decision to impose the condition on a portable benefit does not infringe Harris’s right to travel, we reverse the district court’s judgment.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said after the opinion was issued, “Texas passed the Hazlewood Act in 1923 to ensure the continued success of Texas military veterans who honorably served the United States. Education is vital in their transition back to civilian life and today’s ruling allows Texas to exercise its sovereign right to encourage Texas students to finish high school, volunteer for military service, and bring their skills back to Texas to pursue higher education.”

Paxton added, “As the Court agreed, the State clearly has a rational basis for the qualifications set forth in the Hazlewood Act. This win is an affirmation of the Texas Legislature’s authority to establish State policy, as well as a win for taxpayers and veterans.”

Veterans can find a Hazlewood application, a tutorial on how to fill-out the application, an online database, Hazlewood documents, and answers to frequently asked questions at this Texas Veterans Commission website link.

As outlined on the Texas Veterans Commission website, a veteran qualifies for the waived tuition if:

  • At the time of entry into active duty the U.S. Armed Forces, designated Texas as Home of Record; or entered the service in Texas; or was a Texas resident;
  • Have received an honorable discharge or separation or a general discharge under honorable conditions as indicated on the Veteran’s Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD Form 214);
  • Served at least 181 days of active duty service (excluding training);
  • Have no federal Veteran’s education benefits, or have no federal Veterans education benefits dedicated to the payment of tuition and fees only (such as Chapter 33 or 31; for term or semester enrolled that do not exceed the value of Hazlewood benefits;
  • Not be in default on a student loan made or guaranteed by the State of Texas;
  • Enroll in classes for which the college receives tax support (i.e., a course that does not depend solely on student tuition and fees to cover its cost), unless the college’s governing board has ruled to let Veterans receive the benefit while taking non-funded courses; and
  • Meet the GPA requirement of the institution’s satisfactory academic progress policy in a degree or certificate program as determined by the institution’s financial aid policy and, as an undergraduate student, not be considered to have attempted an excessive amount of credit hours.

Veterans who are granted their first Hazlewood Act exemption beginning fall, 2011 must reside in Texas during the semester or term for which the exemption is claimed. This requirement does not apply to the veterans who either received the exemption prior to the 2011-2012 academic year, have reenlisted into active duty, or reside with a spouse who is on active duty, provides a link on the website.

According to the Texas Veterans Commission, a veteran must:

  • Apply and be accepted to a Texas public college or university of his/her choice. Go to  www.applytexas.org to apply or use your institution’s application for admission;
  • Provide proof (DD214) from the Department of Defense regarding military service and the nature of discharge;
  • Provide proof of eligibility or ineligibility for GI Bill benefits (Chapter 31, 33/Post-9/11) by requesting a certificate of eligibility for federal education benefits from eBenefits (if Veteran has active duty service after 9/11/2001). You will need to create a username and password to request your certificate of eligibility;
  • Fill out the Hazlewood Exemption application form; and
  • Turn in the Hazlewood Exemption application form, a copy of your letter of eligibility/ineligibility, and a copy of your DD214 into the financial aid office of the institution you will be attending.

Applications and all supporting documentation must be received by the institution no later than the last day of class in order to be evaluated for the semester or term, provides the Texas Veterans Commission on its website.

In 2009, the Texas Legislature expanded the Texas Hazlewood Act’s benefits to include dependents. A veteran can assign unused tuition benefits to a dependent child, but only one dependent child can use this benefit at a time. A legal dependent is defined as a biological or adopted child or step-child, and dependents claimed on taxes. Texas is the only state in the nation that gives such generous benefits to the dependents of veterans.

A spouse and dependent child of an eligible Active Duty, Reserve, or Texas National Guard veteran who is 100 percent disabled, died in the line of duty, or are missing in action, is also entitled to a credit hours exemption of 150 hours.

Texas Senate Bill 1735 introduced during the 2015 legislative session would have narrowed the benefits for the children of veterans. The narrowing provisions were struck during debate in the Texas House the day before Memorial Day. As a result, committees were appointed in both the Senate and House but did not end in a resolution and no legislation was passed. A similar bill is suspected to resurface again during the 2017 Texas legislative session.

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.

Fifth Circuit Opinion in Texas Hazlewood Act Case