Chancellor creates task force to aid veterans
October 9, 2008
UW-River Falls is forming a special task force to address the special needs of veteran and active duty students.
UWRF has approximately 300 students who are veterans or active duty servicemen and women, and this number is expected to increase with the new G.I. Bill, which will take effect in August 2009, according to Interim Chancellor Connie Foster.
"We are seeing an increase and we are aware that they will be needing special services," Foster said. "We want to make sure we are accommodating them."
The members of this task force are asked to assess and review the University’s ability across the institution to meet the special needs of the students who are veterans. They will summarize the current programs, services, policies and procedures regarding veterans on campus, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of those services and make specific recommendations for improving those services.
"This is a national discussion that is going on at every campus," Mark Kinders, veterans club advisor, said. Kinder is a veteran and has a son in active duty serving in Iraq.
The new G.I. Bill that will take effect in August of next year will allow veterans a chance at a free four-year degree. The new plan was designed to match the free-college tuition pledge under the G.I. Bill of Rights approved after World War II, which paid for a four-year degree plus additional funds for books and housing expenses. However, the amount awarded has not kept pace with the price of a college degree, making it unlikely for veterans to get a degree without loans or financial aid.
Under the new G.I. Bill, the amount awarded is tied to the price of the most expensive public college in a service member’s home state, plus additional housing and living expenses.
"Congress has finally stepped up to the plate and are funding vets the way they should," Kinders said. "The G.I. Bill puts higher education at reach for students."
Veterans are coming from an experience were team camaraderie is very important and, once they leave the service, that lifeline is cut. The veterans task force will focus on making the transition easier, Kinders said.
"We would like to provide an option for networks to come together as an organization," he said.
They will also look into changing enrollment procedures so veterans do not feel outnumbered in a classroom and to make them feel more comfortable expressing their point of view in class.
"I felt out of place in class because I couldn’t relate with campus life. I wasn’t coming into school as a freshman," veteran Cora Gerth, who served six months in Afghanistan, said. "Being in the military, serving in a foreign country and then coming back and going to school is something that unless you’ve experienced you can’t understand the transition."
The task force also wants to ensure that veterans and active duty servicemen and women know where to go to receive their G.I. benefits. A major difficulty in the past for veterans is that there seems to be no correlation between the Financial Aid Office and the Veterans Office, Gerth said.
"When I would go to the financial aid office they would tell me I needed to go to the Veterans Office, but no one would be there," Gerth said. "That was really hard because the Veterans Office hours are very limited."
The task force will also focus on improving for those leaving school because of deployment. The Wisconsin National Guard is deploying to Iraq in February 2009 and UWRF has 30 or more guardsman included in the deployment. A goal for the task force is to make sure the students leave school in good standing so they can return. UWRF would also like to offer online classes to those serving overseas, Kinders said.
"I took online classes in Afghanistan and also when I was stationed in Alaska through a community college in California. That was great because I received six credits, but because it wasn’t through UWRF, where I choose to get my degree, they only counted as generals," Gerth said.
The veterans task force will hold its first meeting within the next couple of weeks and will conclude with a report by the end of the semester. The report will include a list of issues they found at UWRF concerning our veterans and active duty service members and solutions to those issues.