Tragedy that struck Eagle family prompts transformation of GI Bill

Tragedy prompts transformation of GI benefits.

EAGLE - A bill with a provision prompted by the passing of an Eagle High School student was signed into law by President Trump last week, turning a devastating tragedy into hope for grieving military families across the nation.

The law closes a loophole in veterans' education benefits - an oversight Rep. Raul Labrador (R - Idaho) was determined to resolve.

After 16-year-old Shauna Hill's death, her family and the congressman wanted to right a wrong and help others who would unfortunately experience a similar loss, and hit the same roadblocks they did.

It has been four-and-a-half years since Shauna's passing. She was driving across Highway 16 from Floating Feather Road when she was struck by a car and killed. But today, her legacy lives on, and will provide comfort to veterans and their families.

"She would have been so proud of this bill," Shauna's mother, Heidi Hill, said. "She had such a strong sense of justice - of right and wrong and getting things right, doing the right thing."

While her father, Captain Edward Hill, was actively serving in the Navy he assigned his GI Bill education benefits to Shauna.

"She was a special child. She was really smart, really talented," Capt. Hill told KTVB. "She wanted to go to Stanford."

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"She would be applying for law school [today]... Or running for Congress, right behind Congressman Labrador," the Hills added.

After Shauna suddenly passed, Capt. Hill tried transferring his benefits to his other daughter, Haley, but he hit an obstacle. Just a few months prior, he had retired from 28 years of service and learned that because he was no longer active duty, he couldn't reassign his benefits.

"There was no solution, I lost it, it's gone. Very frustrating," Hill added. "It's the last thing you want to hear about at that point. Just one more hammer coming down on you."

So he reached out to his representative for help.

"The Naval service said, 'no we cannot do anything about this, this is something we cannot change because the law prevents us from doing something about this'," Rep. Labrador told KTVB, "So the only fix was legislative."

After four years of dedication and commitment, Rep. Labrador introduced the Shauna Hill Post 9/11 Education Benefits Transferability Act in February.

"If you're going through a tragedy like losing your child and you're trying to transfer the benefits to another child and to encounter this kind of opposition, to encounter this obstacle to actually being able to help another child, how devastating that can be at that time," the Congressman said.

"This is going to happen frequently, and it's happened a lot. And it's just an oversight," Hill added.

The bill allows for the reassignment of GI education benefits in cases where the designated beneficiary passes away, helping bring veteran families some relief.

"Because of the efforts of her parents and the memory and just the love they have for their daughter, they're going to be able to help so many other families," Rep. Labrador said.

Shauna's bill was incorporated into larger, broader legislation: the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act, H.R. 3218. Labrador says in its report to the House, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said it was a matter of fairness to extend benefits to survivors. 

The Colmery Act passed both the House and Senate unanimously, and Labrador says it is the most significant expansion of the GI bill in a decade. President Trump signed the bill on August 16, officially making it law.

"That's pretty amazing, pretty neat to see that," Capt. Hill said. 

"Shauna loved veterans. When we'd go to air shows the first thing she would do is run to the booths, to the displays to talk to World War II vets and that's all she cared about. She loved our military friends and our military family. She would have been proud," Heidi added. "She'd be laughing out of embarrassment. She's very humble, very gracious."

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Though she's no longer here, Shauna's impact is felt throughout the community and, now, the entire country.

"It's really amazing. She's been gone four-and-a-half years and I can't help but feel like she was a part of all this," Heidi added.

The Hills say they're incredibly humbled that Labrador and his staff worked tirelessly on this bill - not just for them, but for all veterans.

"They made this effort for us and for veterans. This was a really over-the-top and tremendous effort and they worked for many months and I was really appreciative of them," Hill added. "They pushed forward and fixed this because no one was willing to make the effort until they did."

And Labrador says working with the family has been a profound honor.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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