WASHINGTON – Paul Kelly thought the only way he could afford college was to enlist the Marines and then use the GI Bill to go to college later. Instead he is heading to Radford University in Virginia this month.

The 18-year-old, whose father died in Iraq in 2007 while serving in the Army, found scholarships and other financial aid with the help of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a national organization dedicated to helping relatives of members of the military killed in action.

Originally focused more on trauma and grief resources, TAPS started to provide support for education for children of the deceased military members in 2014. TAPS employees direct the children to benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as other private scholarships to cover tuition and living expenses.

“I didn’t even know there were programs to help people to go to college,” said Kelly, who lives in Stafford, Virginia.

TAPS officials said it has helped about 1,000 students.

“[We] help the families understand what they are eligible for and how to access them,” said Ashlynne Haycock, TAPS education support services coordinator.

Haycock lost her parents who both served in the military. “There was no one there to guide me through the process,” she said. So she reached out to TAPS,  through which she was connected with other surviving military children.

“TAPS was a huge part of the grieving process for me… being a support for me and having someone to call whenever I needed to talk or cry,” Haycock said. Her job “is an opportunity to give back to the organization that has done so much for me.”

Kelly also had a TAPS mentor after his father’s death and the two have remained close; he also developed a network of people to talk to.

“They helped me to talk to people more about it,” Kelly said. “… [They told me] you cannot feel sorry for yourself all the time. You have to keep on going no matter what.”