Ashlynne Haycock was only ten years old when her father Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Haycock was killed in Iraq. But Ashlynne already knew education was important to him.
“He made me learn all 50 states and capitols before I started Kindergarten,” Ashlynne told the crowd at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., present for the unveiling of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) new Education Support Services program.
For so many of our service members, education is one of the most important benefits they want to pass on to their children. But when a service member is killed in action, those plans can become precarious — even with all the programs that are out there.At the event, several widows told me about how often they meet surviving family members who don’t know about their benefits. The bereaved are told about the TAPS program by their Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) at the time of their service member’s death, but often family member don’t remember the program or they don’t sign the paper allowing TAPS officials to contact them.
Often children are so young at the time of the service member’s death that college seems very far in the future. Surviving spouses can also die or become disabled, leaving their college-age children adrift.
That’s what happened to Ashlynne. During her senior year of college, Ashlynne’s mother also died. When Ashlynne couldn’t work out the funding or sort through all the possible programs available for survivors, she called on TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll to help.
“I told her there was no one stop shop to figure out education benefits for survivors,” said Ashlynne. “In typical Bonnie Carroll fashion, she told me to come up with a solution for the problem.”
The solution was the Military Survivor Education and Support Service Program.
The new program is a combination of an in person staff and an online portal. The expert support staff will assist surviving military families one-on-one to access programs and help with filling out financial aid forms.
The online portal will help family members identify private, state and federal benefits for which bereaved families may qualify.
The program was organized by TAPS as a major public-private partnership. Organizations that were recognized for their participation with TAPS included U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Joining Forces, SVA, Fisher House Foundation, Children of Fallen Patriots, Folds of Honor, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and IntelliDyne, LLC.
When a service member dies, families give up one of the dreams they have for their children—the dream of having that dad or that mom at their child’s side throughout their lives. These families shouldn’t have to give up the dream of a college education, especially when the benefits are right there waiting to be found.
Photos courtesy U.S. Army and TAPS.