One of the final acts of the 2006 Iowa legislature was to create a new benefit for the children left behind when Iowa soldiers on active duty are killed. Senator Chuck Larson, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, says the proposal calls for the state to pick up the tab for tuition at a community college or at Iowa, Iowa State or U-N-I for the children of soldiers killed since September 11th.
“These young children have lost one of the most important people in their lives and at a minimum we as lawmakers, Iowans, can ensure that they have the opportunities that they would have had if they hadn’t lost a father or a mother in the war,” Larson says. Under the proposal, a “war orphan” would be eligible for up to 55-hundred dollars per year to cover tuition, fees and books as well as room and board.
Larson was on active duty in Iraq last year as a member of the Army Reserve, and he shepherded the proposal through the legislature this week. Larson says 16 children in Iowa would qualify today for the free tuition. “Now, obviously, much of that will not come due immediately (since) many of the children are young,” Larson says. “The most important aspect is that we, as a state, have made a commitment to help these young people.”
Governor Tom Vilsack says he’ll gladly approve the move. “I am supportive of everything we can possibly do to extend our gratitude to those who serve,” Vilsack says. “For those who make an ultimate sacrifice, it’s appropriate for us to find ways to continue to look for ways to help those families out.”
Vilsack says this benefit follows other steps he and lawmakers have taken to help soldiers on the home front. “Our state is one of the few states that provides cash assistance to injured soldiers and their families. I’m proud of the fact we are one of the few states that has a downpayment assistance program for first-time homebuyers (who are members of) the Iowa National Guard,” Vilsack says. “This will be just another way for us to say ‘Thank you.'”
Larson, the former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, is not seeking re-election in November and he, too, hails the range of new benefits Iowa lawmakers have provided for soldiers and soldiers’ families.
Larson says that new, 10-thousand dollar cash benefit to help the families of seriously injured soldiers cover travel expenses will be “extremely helpful” to families who have to rent a hotel room as they visit a loved one being treated at an out-of-state military hospital.
“As I look back on my 14 years of service in the Iowa legislature, I am very appreciative of the stand that our policymakers in both the House, Senate and in the governor’s office have taken in support of our men and women in uniform,” Larson says.
Larson is an advisor to Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle and has signed on to help Arizona Senator John McCain connect with Iowans in advance of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses which will be the kick-off event of the next presidential campaign.