Veterans Challenge Citizenship Exclusion to Education Benefits

The American G.I. Forum has joined two veterans of the Persian Gulf War in a federal lawsuit, arguing that Texas veterans benefits should not be denied based on citizenship status prior to military service.

Plaintiffs Raul Dominguez of Potter County and Naser Alzer of Travis County were both legal residents of Texas when they joined the military, but were not citizens. Because of a 2005 ruling by the Texas Attorney General, they have been excluded from claiming education benefits under the Hazlewood Act.

The change of policy was prompted by a letter from the Chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Leticia Van de Putte. In the Jan. 10, 2005 letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sen. Van de Putte questioned the practice of higher education authorities who regarded veterans as eligible for Hazlewood benefits if they had 12-months of residency in Texas prior to military service.

“It is significant that the Act explicitly requires both Texas citizenship and residency,” wrote the Senator.

On August 19, 2005 the Attorney General agreed that in order to be a “citizen of Texas” one must be “a person who is a United States citizen and who resides in Texas.”

In the summer of 2006, says the lawsuit, applications for Hazlewood benefits contained the question: “Were you a citizen of the United States at the time you entered the service?”

The lawsuit filed June 28 by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) argues that Texas should not have started excluding legal residents from veterans benefits.

The recent exclusion, says the lawsuit, violates equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution; violates the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution: violates the Texas Equal Rights Amendment; and violates the Texas
Anti-Discrimination Law.

Neither Senator Van de Putte nor Attorney General Abbott considered questions of civil rights for veterans, equal protection, discrimination, due process, or anti-discrimination in their 2005 correspondence.

The Gulf War veterans should be allowed to claim their Hazlewood benefits, says the lawsuit.

Here’s a pdf of the federal complaint in Dominguez, Alser, and American GI Forum v Texas (95k).–gm

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