Tommy Wright: We can’t fail military survivors

Published 10:45 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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On Tuesday, June 18, the Senate of Virginia had an opportunity to take the first real step in fixing the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program. Yet during hours of work, the body failed to even consider any legislation to fix the program, let alone pass anything.

To say Senate Democrats made a hash of today’s session is an understatement. Both the preceding committee hearing, and the session began hours late. Neither considered any bills. Exponential growth in VMSDEP has put it on track to unsustainability, according to House Appropriations Committee staffers.

The program has grown from serving roughly 1,000 Gold Star families to more than 8,300, or a “cost” of $84.9 million this fiscal year. That, according to Senate Democrats, is unsustainable and must be curtailed immediately. Everyone agrees the program needs reform, but Senate Republicans and both parties in the House agree that the reform needs to happen during a regular session.

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As multiple Senators noted, there was a bill pending that would have repealed the VMSDEP changes in question, clearing the way for the House to act on that same legislation on June 28. This would have given peace of mind to those Gold Star, combat disabled, and first responder families who depend on this program for their children’s education.

Yet for some reason, the Senate took up no bills at all, either in committee or on the floor, leaving VMSDEP families in limbo for even longer. What limited testimony heard today was heartbreaking. “My husband paid for this with his blood” & “We are not an unintended consequence”; “You owe every veteran and active-duty service member an apology”. 

Democrats insisted that they are simply acting to preserve the viability of the program. Yet as the Senate President said in her opening remarks, Democrats have coupled this legislation to skill games legislation, possibly to use it as leverage to force that bill’s passage. A Republican Senator made remarks on the floor: If the changes to VMSDEP had come in the form of a bill rather than a last-minute budget change, they never would have survived. 

The solution is simple: adopt bipartisan legislation that will repeal the changes passed in the budget, utilize the Preserving VMSDEP Task Force to issue recommendations, and then return in January and work through the legislative process to reform the program. A bipartisan majority in the House is ready to return on June 28 to do just that. Republicans stand with Gold Star families, our combat disabled, and our first responders, and we always will.

Military survivors and bump stocks

In a highly anticipated ruling late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned new regulations put forward by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which classified bump stocks as machine guns. Under existing law, a firearm which fires one round for each pull of the trigger — a semi-automatic weapon — is legal.

Weapons that fire more than one round per pull of the trigger — automatic or “burst fire” — are illegal unless they were registered before 1986 and the owner has completed National Firearms Act paperwork, jumped through several more hoops and has paid a $200 transfer tax. A bump stock is a stock that allows a rifle to slide back and forth while firing.

The recoil action bounces the trigger, allowing it to be pulled rapidly enough to simulate full automatic fire. This is NOT the same way a “Glock switch” works. Glock switches convert a semi-auto pistol to a full-auto submachine gun and remain illegal. After the concern caused by the massacre in Las Vegas, the Trump administration approved new rules classifying the stocks as parts of an automatic weapon, and thus illegal unless they were treated like an NFA firearm.

Last week’s ruling is simple: words mean what they say they mean. When Congress said, “one activation of the trigger”; they meant just that. Pulling a trigger quickly does not make a weapon a machine gun. Congress — or states — can legislate regarding bump stocks, but ATF cannot issue new rules that are inconsistent with the law as written, the court held.

I appreciate those who contact my office and hope you will continue to reach out when we can be of assistance. The best way to contact me is via email at or by calling 434.696.3061. You can also send mail to PO Box 1323, Victoria, Virginia 23974. Follow me on Facebook: Delegate Tommy Wright.