Robyn Gee on Tuesday, May. 3rd
In 2008, President Barack Obama promised that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin in the summer of 2011, and troops would be coming home from the Middle East. Summer’s almost here.
What will these new veterans do next? And are we ready to support them financially with open arms?
This is the third year that the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill will be available to veterans as an educational grant. The bill pays for a veteran’s tuition and fees, provides a housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies. Since the bill was made available in 2009, the amount of veterans taking advantage of it has increased by thousands. According to the National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics (NCVAS), 34,393 veterans took advantage of the Post 9.11 G.I. Bill in 2009, and that number jumped to 221,900 veterans in 2010. Imagine how many new student veterans will claim this benefit for the next academic year.
What Veterans Are Facing
For veterans that have their sights set on a diploma, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill is a godsend. However, taking advantage of this grant can be hell. Coming out of a rigid, no slack environment, where most decisions are made by someone of a higher rank – it’s now up to the veteran to:
a) choose a school
b) fill out applications
c) write the essays
d) take the SAT’s
e) retrieve your high school transcripts
f) take advantage of your veteran benefits… and the list goes on.
At San Francisco State University, the student veterans organization on campus has seen a 30 percent increase in numbers since 2009, according to Rogelio Manaois, the director of the Veteran Services Program at SFSU, and he expects more next year. J.P. Tremblay, Deputy Secretary at the California Department of Veterans Affairs said that on average, they see 30,000 vets come home each year, but he expects more this year.
At the UC Berkeley Veteran Center, Ron William’s door was open, and the flow of student veterans was steady. “If we could multiply Ron Williams by 300 it would be the best thing for us,” said Jose de Lara, 31, who served six years in the U.S. Navy, and is now pursuing philosophy. He said that having a mentor was the most important resource for someone making the transition from the service to school. Other veterans echoed him saying the veteran center where they could find a familiar community was essential to their success.
Unfortunately for De Lara and the other 300 + veterans at UC Berkeley, Williams serves student veterans as part of an unfunded mandate by the state of California, which requires every UC, CSU, and community college in the state of California to provide someone dedicated to retaining and recruiting student veterans. Williams serves this position on top of all his other responsibilities in the Transfer and Re-entry office at UC Berkeley. “It means that no college or university is getting any additional funds from the state to deliver these programs,” he said. Maintaining the program has been a challenge.
Manaois at SFSU agrees. “Staffing is the biggest issue. I am only one full-time staff member with around five student assistants trying to run the Veterans Services Program with no real source of outside funding at this point and no time to be able to look for outside funding to help support activities for our veterans population. We are seeing a growing need for benefits advising since the majority of our new students are transfers from two year colleges and are on the tail end of their benefits,” said Manaois.
So- as troops are set to come home from the Middle East this summer, and the unfunded campus mandates remain the same – how are schools going to accommodate these student veterans?
Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of Student Veterans of America, served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 – 2008. When he returned home, he enrolled at University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he started a student veterans chapter. “I took the reins along with a few other leaders. We didn’t turn anyone away – prospective students, returning vets…People would call us asking, ‘How do I get my benefits?’” said Dakduk.
Dakduk and others are worried about colleges being unprepared for new student veterans. “I think that we really have a perfect storm coming up. I’m concerned that institutions won’t be prepared to absorb that impact, to accommodate our needs in class,” said Dani Molina, who served as a radio operator in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and is now doing doctoral research on the veteran population in higher education at UCLA.