Print Page  |  Contact Us  |  Report Abuse  |  Sign In  |  Register
Latest News: News Articles

SOWF Joins Surviving Spouses and Military Support Groups Seeking Expanded Fry Scholarship Benefits

Monday, June 8, 2015  
Posted by: Wendy Bourland
Share |


Two members of Congress and several military support organizations, including the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and surviving spouses are in support of an initiative that addresses an unintentional inequality in education benefits for some surviving spouses of fallen service members.

Just before Memorial Day, Democratic Congresswoman and Army/Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republican Congressman Scott Rigell of Virginia, a Marine Corps veteran, introduced the bipartisan Military Spouses Achieving College Education for Survivors (ACES) Act bill, HR 2531.

If adopted, it would provide spouses of husbands or wives who died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001, the time needed to use the full 36 months of benefits from the Fry Scholarship, without worrying the benefits would run out before they could complete their educational program. June 5 Note From Rep. Tammy Duckworth about ACES Act

*  *  *

The Fry Scholarship is named in honor of Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry, who lost his life in 2006. The Fry Scholarship program was originally created for children of fallen military personnel, and was extended to surviving spouses in August of 2014.

While the Choice Act that went into effect January 1, 2015, expanded Fry Scholarship benefits, a time limit included in the legislation came as a surprise to eligible spouses.

Public law cuts off Fry Scholarship eligibility for surviving spouses 15 years following the date of the service member’s death, putting those who lost their loved one shortly after 9/11 at a disadvantage, because some only have 12 to 24 months to use 36 months’ worth of benefits, normally used over a period of four years.

By comparison, Dependent Educational Assistance (DEA) benefits have a 45-month span and the spouses’ eligibility is 20 years from the date of their husband or wife’s death.

But those who qualify for both programs must choose one or the other, and they can’t switch once they make their decision. As a result, some spouses go with DEA because of the longer eligibility period.

The expansion being sought is estimated to use $30 million (approximately $6 million per year for five years) of funding that has already been allocated and allow our nation to honor its commitment to the families of military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

*  *  *

"The Special Operations Warrior Foundation supports providing all surviving spouses with the opportunity to use the Fry Scholarship to pursue their education,” says retired Vice Admiral Joe Maguire, the SOWF’s president and CEO.

The SOWF has joined organizations including the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and the National Military Family Association in writing letters to Congress to support the ACES Act.

"As currently worded, the Choice Act does a disservice to surviving spouses by not reflecting the original intent of the legislation, which was to support all those who lost their military spouses after 9/11,” Maguire says.

*  *  *

Also working behind the scenes to support the ACES Act are pre- and post-9/11 surviving spouses, and those of fallen warriors from conventional and special operations forces, including:

Nancy Mullen, whose husband Sean (right,) an Army warrant officer and Green Beret, was killed in action in June of 2013 by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations in Nimroz Province, Afghanistan;




Left: Nancy and Sean Mullen at a 5th Special Forces Group formal dinner






Michelle Fitz-Henry, whose husband, Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer and SEAL Ted Fitz-Henry, died in 2004 during a training exercise to prepare for a second tour in Iraq; 

Victoria Kelsall, whose husband, Lt. Cmdr. Jonas Kelsall, a Navy SEAL, lost his life in August of 2011 when the helicopter with call sign Extortion 17 was shot down in Afghanistan; and

Laura Lehigh, whose husband, 1st. Lt. Michael Schmidt, died in October 1971 from service connected complications. He suffered combat wounds in Vietnam in 1968 while serving with the Army's First Air Cavalry Division and was medically retired in 1969.

Not only are these women united by the sense of what is right, Nancy says, they are motivated by the values their military spouses lived by, including this time-honored credo:

"Soldiers don’t leave any man behind.”

*  *  *

A certified public accountant, Nancy Mullen is a senior manager of assurance services with KraftCPAs in Nashville, TN, not far from Ft. Campbell, KY, where Sean was based. 

Nancy has served as the treasurer of the Greater Nashville Affiliate of the nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which raises funds for breast cancer research, awareness and programs; and treasurer of the nonprofit Operation Stand Down Tennessee, Inc., which helps honorably discharged male and female veterans in the state who are in need of social services, including clothing, legal assistance, employment and transitional housing – offering a hand up, not a hand out.

Her efforts were recognized in January of 2015 when she was chosen as one of the Top 40 professionals under age 40 by the Nashville Business Journal.

She now makes a comfortable living even with the loss of her husband’s income, unlike some spouses who are holding down low-paying jobs – or who do not work outside the home at all, because of parenting responsibilities that keep them at home to care for their children.

For a spouse of a fallen military member who has not worked or who does not have the education to earn a higher wage, she notes, "it would be very difficult to move on with your life, which is why giving them educational opportunities is so important, to help them provide better for themselves and their families."



Sign Up to Receive E-News