Editor’s Note: this updated article was originally published in Law Week’s Jan. 6, 2020, print issue.
Former Gov. John Vanderhoof in early January 1974 requested that the state legislature review an unwritten but controversial bill. Senate Bill 39 would waive half the in-state tuition for qualifying Vietnam-era veterans. Vietnam veterans experienced a critical wave of news coverage, unsupportive programs and a lack of advocacy at both state and federal levels on their return.
Vanderhoof, whose previous bill for a full tuition waiver for vets was unanimously quashed by the House in the previous session, pushed for the modified bill’s approval to the disappointment of the Colorado Association of Collegiate Veterans. The CACV publicly expressed their dismay at the lowered waiver sum. President John Aaron said “it’s half the loaf” to the Aurarian in a January 1974 issue. All while proponents of the bill grudgingly agreed that it would be more likely to pass at half the previous ask.
According to the 1976 published hearings for the bill, the Department of Labor reported that in 1974, half of the 83,000 Colorado veterans who requested employment assistance from the state had their applications denied after not receiving any services from the government. Additionally, upon review of the benefits being offered to vets, the stipend amounts had not increased in nearly 30 years since the end of World War II.
At the time, it was more beneficial for Vietnam veterans to cash in unemployment than it was for them to return to school and seek civilian employment. In 1974, it was estimated that veterans could receive 70% more in the stipend and unemployment program than was possible for them to receive through any other initiative.
Seventy-one of the 100 members of the Colorado General Assembly cosponsored the bill after it had been placed on the call by Vanderhoof. The law gave veterans additional incentives to return to school and join the civilian workforce with a higher education degree and it was estimated that the number of veterans pursuing higher education was 65% higher than in previous years.
Currently, Colorado boasts a full tuition waiver program for eligible Colorado National Guard members. Additional state veteran benefits include property tax exemption, income tax on active duty or retired military pay, access to the Military Family Relief Fund and discount or free options for state fishing and wildlife activities among many other programs and free state services.