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Published: Tuesday, 7/7/2009

Colleges tweak programs with GI Bill students in mind

ASSOCIATED PRESS

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. With a fattened GI Bill covering full tuition and more, the number of veterans attending college this fall is expected to jump 30 percent from last year to almost half a million. That s left many universities looking for ways to ease the transition.

Vets already in school have run into problems including campus bureaucracy, crowds that can trigger alarm instincts honed by war, and fellow students who don t understand their battlefield experiences.

In response, colleges nationwide are offering veterans-only classes, adding counselors, and streamlining the application and financial aid processes.

Under the new GI Bill, the number of military veterans enrolling this fall is expected to top 460,000, up from 354,000 last autumn, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Many will encounter a classroom culture shock that can leave them agitated.

Colin Closs, a former Fort Campbell soldier studying at Cleveland State University, benefited last school year from a program started in 2007 by chemistry professor John Schupp to form some freshman-level classes with all veterans.

The University of Arizona adopted his program last year and schools in at least a dozen states are working on similar programs.

Mr. Closs said that after leaving the military, he had trouble interacting with people who don t understand his wartime experiences. But when he takes classes with other veterans, they can talk about problems they may have.

It s like the VFW hall without the alcohol, Mr. Closs said.

The University of West Florida in Pensacola, near Eglin Air Force Base, is adding counselors to help service members with post-traumatic stress disorder or other emotional problems, but administrators realize veterans don t want to be labeled as disabled.

They feel like they are ostracized, or there s a stigma attached, so how we handle that is getting a lot of scrutiny, said Marc Churchwell, the school s military education program coordinator.

Mr. Churchwell, who is retired from the Navy, said his own experience with the previous GI Bill made him want to make the process easier for the next generation of the military.

It was very frustrating for me to the point I was ready to quit, Mr. Churchwell said. My goal is for those people to come to me so they don t have to deal with it.

The University of California Los Angeles has short orientations for veterans and is establishing a veterans readjustment group.

Matthew Nichols, a psychologist who joined UCLA s counseling and psychological services after working for the VA, said he s hopeful students will feel more comfortable asking for help on a college campus versus walking into a veterans hospital.

These are everyday concerns, he said. It s much less about There s something wrong with me and more about How can I study a little better? he said.

Universities that traditionally have served military students are finding that their students need help with the enrollment process.

Congress voted last year to dramatically expand the GI Bill. The old measure offered $1,321 a month. Effective Aug. 1, the new bill will cover tuition and fees for any in-state public university, a housing allowance, and $1,000 a year for books and supplies.



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