RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Ralph Northam said he plans to invest an additional $1 million per year in tuition assistance for the Virginia National Guard, the first change in assistance since 2008.

“Our National Guard members make difficult sacrifices to protect our nation and the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “This investment aims to reward Virginia Soldiers and Airmen and encourage more people to join the program. This is a way to say thank you.”

According to the governor’s office, between 400 and 500 members of the Guard apply to its tuition assistance program each year.

Acting Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Kathleen Jabs, said they are excited to have the ability to offer more members of the VA National Guard assistance to pursue higher education.

“Guard members have been at the forefront of response to natural disasters, testing for COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, and answering the call during times of civil unrest in addition to deploying overseas for Department of Defense missions,” Jabs said. “This is a way for Virginia to show appreciation.”

Northam is also proposing a change to the tuition assistance program from an up-front direct award given before classes begin, to a reimbursement model, where the money is given after the Guard member completes a class.

Northam said this model change will eliminate the recollection of funds from members who do not complete eligibility requirements.