Ohio colleges expand services for veterans

1-stop centers offer support for transition

11/23/2012
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Veterans-Ohio-Colleges-1

Buck Clay, right, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant who served in Iraq and Kosovo, talks with a fellow veteran in the veterans support center at the University of Cincinnati. He said veterans, who can have difficulty making the transition from the regimented military culture to a campus environment, need a sense of com­mu­nity and sup­port.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CINCINNATI — Army vet­eran Buck Clay found that ad­just­ing to col­lege life af­ter years in the mil­i­tary wasn’t easy.

That’s why he wel­comes ef­forts by Ohio uni­ver­sities and col­leges to pro­vide more help for stu­dent vet­er­ans try­ing to make that tran­si­tion.

As more ser­vice per­son­nel re­turn from over­seas, some cam­puses are de­vel­op­ing one-stop vet­eran ser­vices cen­ters and other ways to bet­ter sup­port thou­sands of vet­er­ans around Ohio who are seek­ing de­grees.

“A lot of vet­er­ans who get dis­cour­aged try­ing to adapt to a cam­pus en­vi­ron­ment from the more reg­i­mented mil­i­tary cul­ture just give up,” said Mr. Clay, a 31-year-old for­mer Army staff ser­geant who served in Iraq and Kos­ovo. “We need a sense of com­mu­nity and sup­port to help with the ac­a­demic and emo­tional chal­lenges.”

Mr. Clay at­tends the Univer­sity of Cin­cin­nati, which opened its vet­er­ans one-stop cen­ter this month. The cen­ter will pro­vide more cen­tral­ized in­for­ma­tion and ac­cess to ser­vices such as tu­tor­ing, ac­a­demic and psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing, dis­abil­ity ser­vices, and ca­reer de­vel­op­ment.

It also helps stu­dents with the ap­proval pro­cess re­quired to en­sure they are tak­ing the nec­es­sary num­ber and types of courses and are el­i­gi­ble for the mil­i­tary ben­e­fits.

The in­crease in stu­dent vets has been tied to the large num­bers of re­turn­ing ser­vice per­son­nel and to the post-9/11 GI Bill. The 2008 leg­is­la­tion ex­panded ben­e­fits for tu­i­tion and other ed­u­ca­tional ex­penses for vet­er­ans, their de­pen­dents, and ac­tive mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

As of early No­vem­ber, more than 470,000 in­di­vid­u­als na­tion­wide were en­rolled in ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams us­ing those ben­e­fits and more than 22,000 in Ohio used them in 2011, the U.S. Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs says.

UC stu­dents ben­e­fit­ing from the GI bill have dou­bled to more than 1,000 from about 500 in 2008, and the school be­lieves its cen­ter will make vet­er­ans “feel like they are now get­ting com­plete wrap­a­round ser­vices,” said De­bra Mer­chant, as­so­ci­ate vice pres­i­dent of stu­dent ser­vices.

UC is also try­ing to de­velop a co-ed vet­er­ans group so vet­er­ans can net­work with oth­ers shar­ing sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences and goals, Ms. Mer­chant said.

Ohio State Univer­sity re­cently opened its of­fice of mil­i­tary and vet­er­ans ser­vices to ca­ter to the needs of more than 2,000 stu­dents re­ceiv­ing ben­e­fits. That num­ber is an in­crease from just more than 800 four years ago.

“We wor­ried that our vet­er­ans were treated like Ping Pong balls,” go­ing to var­i­ous sites for sup­port, said Wayne Carl­son, Ohio State’s dean of un­der­grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion.

The one-stop cen­ter helps stu­dents get cer­ti­fied for ben­e­fits and get coun­sel­ing and other ser­vices to im­prove their ac­a­demic suc­cess.

Another fo­cus is train­ing fac­ulty and staff to un­der­stand the needs of vet­er­ans, some of whom may suf­fer from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der or other prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Navy vet­eran An­gela King, 26, said the of­fice is a big im­prove­ment from two years ago when she started at OSU. “A lot of us are go­ing through mul­ti­ple tran­si­tions — com­ing off de­ploy­ment and mil­i­tary life at the same time — and hav­ing so many types of ser­vices at one spot re­ally helps,” she said.

Ohio State and south­west Ohio’s Wright State Univer­sity, where about 700 stu­dents are en­rolled un­der the GI bill, also of­fer some vet­er­ans-only classes al­low­ing vet­er­ans to learn along­side class­mates with sim­i­lar life ex­pe­ri­ences.

The Univer­sity of Toledo ex­panded its vet­er­ans ser­vices cen­ter to a one-stop cen­ter last year and has hired a vet­eran to help co­or­di­nate vet­er­ans ser­vices for more than 600 stu­dents.

Haraz Ghan­bari of UT is reach­ing out to off-cam­pus vet­er­ans groups and stu­dent vet­er­ans for sug­ges­tions. The ef­fort that has led to free park­ing and pri­or­ity class reg­is­tra­tion for those stu­dents.

Col­lege sup­port ser­vices must be broad-based, vet­er­ans around the state stress.

Some schools pre­vi­ously fo­cused on “get­ting stu­dents cer­ti­fied for ben­e­fits and get­ting their tu­i­tion, but didn't go much be­yond that,” Mr. Clay said.

UT med­i­cal stu­dent Rob Roether, who served in the Army in Iraq and Af­ghan­istan, fa­vors the ad­di­tional sup­port but has con­cerns.

“Univer­sities are adapt­ing to meet the de­mand, but I worry that some stu­dents and schools may just take the tu­i­tion money with­out sit­ting down to de­ter­mine if ev­ery vet­eran re­ally needs a four-year de­gree,” said Mr. Roether, 27.

Former Marine Sgt. Jen Hasenaur, pres­i­dent of UT’s chap­ter of Stu­dent Veter­ans of Amer­ica, urged schools to seek vet­er­ans’ feed­back.

“If they’re not ask­ing those stu­dents what they need, then they’re just go­ing to spend a lot of money for some­thing that might not be used,” she said.

Buck Clay, right, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant who served in Iraq and Kosovo, talks with a fellow veteran in the veterans support center at the University of Cincinnati.  He said veterans, who can have difficulty making the transition from the regimented military culture to a campus environment, need a sense of com­mu­nity and sup­port.
Buck Clay, right, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant who served in Iraq and Kosovo, talks with a fellow veteran in the veterans support center at the University of Cincinnati. He said veterans, who can have difficulty making the transition from the regimented military culture to a campus environment, need a sense of com­mu­nity and sup­port.