The Veteran Experience at EMU: Advice for vets from a fellow vet

Picture courtesy of the EMU Student Veterans of America Facebook page

by Brandon Scott

IMPORTANT! Please read this paragraph carefully to find EVERY Federal Benefit available:

There are some veterans who are not aware of the resources and benefits available to them. To find out about these benefits, call 866-512-1800 or ask the helpful personnel at EMU’s Military and Veterans Resource Center (MVRC), so you can receive a US Department of Veteran Affairs Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents and Survivors. You can also go to: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dmva/VBS-Booklet_Instructions_190078_7.pdf to download Michigan State benefits. These published materials are the two most important tools you can use to better yourself. These guides are genuinely easy to read, and if you have any questions call and ask the appropriate benefit provider or resource center. These books provide detailed information including: education, health care, disability, pensions, VA home loans, transition assistance, and other state and federal benefits.

For reservists, and active duty members, coming back from an overseas deployment can be a slow, daunting, and frustrating adjustment. What do we want to do, what directions should we take, and with what resources? Here at Eastern Michigan University, there are more opportunities for soldiers becoming students. There have been many changes in my time alone here at EMU. Just a few years ago, Eastern became one of the few colleges to make a short list of our country’s top “military friendly” schools. This accolade was deemed by GI Jobs magazine in 2012. (http://www.emich.edu/veterans/about/)

There are basic criteria for achieving such an award to. Although the definitions of what makes up vet-friendly schools may differ, the list of criteria includes:

Military Support on Campus– Offering full-time counseling for veterans. Advisors should know how to utilize all VA educational benefits.

Accreditation– Many people, especially veterans make the mistake of going to the properly accredited institution. The two main forms are Regional: which tend to be non-profit that are either two or four years in length. National: are usually for-profit, single-focused, career based, institutions.

Community– Including everything from clubs, organizations, events, and local area boarding available, focused towards veterans.

Flexibility of Credit Transfer– Many military friendly schools will have a higher tolerance and understanding for accepting credits from other schools and prior military service for college credit.

Yellow Ribbon Associated– A program available to help with the financial aid  gaps for veterans while using the Post/9-11 GI BILL.

State Tuition Assistance– Allowing out of state veterans to attend at a “in-state” discounted rate.

Student Financial Assistance– Our GI BILL and other benefits may not cover the cost of academic institutions, so there should be other options for these financial situations.

Policies and flexibility for Deployment, Training, and Family life– The ability for veterans to work with schools, professors, and faculty with ease due to their knowledge of particular situations in regards to military and civilian life of veteran students.

 

So where does EMU stand in regards to these pre-requisites, in the eyes of its Veteran students?

Starting at EMU in fall of 2010, I ran into several problems with the Military and Veterans Resource Center. After coming into the office with all of the required paperwork and some knowledge to start my GI BILL, Student Loan Repayment System, and Tuition Assistance benefits, I was amazed at the lack of knowledge. After an hour of instructing the current MVRC student workers on the process of how to obtain my benefits, I left bitter, and only came back for a required director’s signature approval.  I could not understand why these student assistant advisors could not answer simple questions on common academic benefits. Since that time, I have not spent a full academic year at EMU due to my future deployment obligations to include several Army schools and training prior to the 2012 deployment, until this year.

 

Photo courtesy of emich.edu/residencelife

Upon returning to The States a changed man after Afghanistan combat engagements left me physically, mentally and psychologically altered, I found myself ready to transition into college studies and civilian life. I soon found that the Military and Veterans Resource Center had changed its location to 401 Pierce Hall on campus, and with its change in location came a change in priorities. I noticed a direct reflection of veteran voices, which ultimately helped push for positive change. More knowledge was available on hand from knowledgeable student veteran aides. The student workers are certified and trained to help you achieve what you earned. The MVRC is even developing an educational benefits workshop built to inform veterans about the best way to achieve higher education. Another organization that is helping out on campus is Student Veterans of Information.

 

The Transition

Coming back from a military lifestyle and transitioning into civilian life can be the hardest task of one’s post-military career. With the amount of veterans returning home from overseas, there is a need for education and career assistance. VOW (Veterans Opportunities to Work Act of 2012) is a Department of Defense funded program built to assist the expansion of transitioning veterans. This program helps prior service members decide a career goal path and direct themselves into it more smoothly. Responding to the need for continuing education, VOW sets up Higher Education workshops. These workshops are two days long, and detail the important aspects of most career fields. The goals are straightforward, in that service members should always be working on the betterment of themselves with knowledge, an idea that is instilled even after service in this program.

 

Education 

There are over 700 veterans here at Eastern, and there are about 500 of whom are utilizing their educational benefits. One of the biggest issues that veterans face across the country seems to be a lack of knowledge of the help that is available to them academically, medically and beyond. In my shortened military career, I have noticed that a large majority of soldiers and veterans are not utilizing all of their allotted educational benefits.

To that end, I would like to stress how very important it is to make sure you know which particular GI BILL is appropriate for you. DO NOT just choose the Chapter your buddy uses, or the one that is easiest to fill out the paper work for. Run the numbers! If you do not have 100% of the GI BILL received, and you are still actively drilling as a reservist, or are still within the military, you should be using your Tuition Assistance along with your GI BILL (excluding the Post 9/11 in almost all cases). If you are using the Post 9/11, and do not have a enough Active Duty time for 100% of your educational benefits, look into the YELLOW RIBBON PROGRAM, which I am happy to say that EMU does offer to its veteran students.

If you are eligible, there is a GI BILL twelve month extension of Post 9/11 benefits after using up all of your past GI BILL months. Find every grant, scholarship and—If needed—appropriate loan available to you as veteran. Hundreds of organizations and agencies across the United States offer scholarships to veterans. If you were unfortunately wounded in combat, there are even more benefits available to you, including Vocational Rehabilitation.

I spoke with several veterans and military members on campus. Many of them are completely scared away from looking into their Student Loan Repayment Program SLRP benefits (which will vary on your initial or retention contract). One veteran even laughed at me and said with a solemn face that there is no such thing, and that it was false. THIS IS INCORRECT.

Please take note now, that I am not telling you to go out and take out thousands of dollars in loans, and expect to have the government pay them back. There is a system for repayment, just as with any other benefit program.

First, make sure it is within your contract; many recipients of the SLRP are required to still be in Army or military branch.

Second, before you take out a loan, make sure it is a federally approved loan that the government will pay back; otherwise you will be paying it back.

Third, log onto https://rcms.ocar.army.pentagon.mil/Education/Unsecured/Login.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2Feducation%2F using your CAC card, and upload all of the required student loan documentation. If you do your research and follow all of the guidelines available some websites including the one below, you should be eligible to have repayments of tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.http://asc.army.mil/web/career-development/programs/student-loan-repayment-program/

Below are links to scholarships available to veterans:

http://www.imagine-america.org/grantsformilitary

http://www.ccmeonline.org/scholarships

https://www.fcef.com/core-values.php

http://www.diplomaframe.com/frame-my-future-scholarship-contest-2013.aspx

www.thepell.com

http://www.michigandar.org/scholarships.htm

www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/benefits.htm

www.imagine-america.org/06-LDRSHIP.asp

www.vamortgagecenter.com/scholarships.html

http://www.militaryvaloan.com/disability-scholarships.html

http://www.michdar.org/RPHMS.htm

Other helpful scholarship sources:

Raytheon-SVA STEM $10,000 scholarship

Troops to Teachers

Scholarships also availble from the following groups (REQUIRE MEMBERSHIP)

American Legion

AMVETS
VFW

MOPH

 

Tax Credits

Currently there are two tax credits with a deduction available to help aid Armed Forces and veteran students during post-secondary education.

(AOC) American Opportunity Credit- Up to $2,500 (4 years)

(LLC) Lifetime Learning Credit- Up to $2,000 (Unlimited while attending post-secondary institutions)

Tuition and Fees Deduction- Up to $4,000 of income deductions (not a credit), associated with “out of pocket” costs and student fees, books and supplies

 

Transferring Military Experience into College Credit

All of the hours spent working your hands, body and mind as part of the training that made you into the soldier that you are can be translated into college credits as well. This is true no matter what your military job.  Opportunities to accumulate college credit include your basic training/boot camp, initial job training, other schools, and classes you attended while serving your country. The amount of credits that I personally transferred of my military experience into EMU totals 31 hours, which is the equivalent of two and a half semesters. If you are interested in utilizing these credits into a minor, look into EMU’s Military Science program, which does not require you to join ROTC.

Obtaining your military transcripts is as easy as going to these websites:

Air Force/Air National Guard- www.au.af.mil/au/ccaf

Army/National Guard-  https://aartstranscript.army.mil

Coast Guard- www.uscg.mil/hq/capemay/education/doc/CGI1564.pdf

Marines/Navy- https://smart.navy.mil/smart/dod

Understanding your military transcripts and the awarded credit: www.acenet.edu/militaryprograms/transferguide

Other helpful resources:

ACE– The American Council on Education- Judge of what kind/how much credit to award for military training

DANTES– Defense Activities for Non-traditional Education Support- manages work of SOC and other educational programs.

SOC– Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges consortium- credit for military training/academic testing

Academically Eastern Michigan University provides the follow programs and benefits and can be utilized

by talking with the MVRC: http://www.emich.edu/veterans/about/

Instate tuition– rates for veterans coming out of Michigan

GI BILLwww.va.gov

Tuition Assistancewww.goarmyed.com

Scholarshipswww.Militaryonesource.com  www.Scholarships.com  www.Military.com

Service Connected Claims– contact Drew (734-487-3119) drew.cummingsvfw@gmail.com

PAVE– Peer Advisors for Veteran Education, connecting veterans with Peer Advisors, who are volunteer veterans already having made the successful transition through college. www.PaveOnCampus.org Kali Lettenmaier-Laack (734) 998-5828 office   kmlaack@umich.edu

V.I.T.A.L (Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership)- VHA benefits, eligibility & enrollment

Vet Success Vocational Rehabilitation- help veterans and their dependents transition into civilian lives while continuing education that would otherwise prove difficult.

VA Student Orientation– in person session helping students gain knowledge of available benefits, financial aid, and other useful academic tools at EMU

Veteran Services

401 Pierce Hall
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734.487.3119
veteran.services@emich.edu

 

Professors and faculty at EMU

They have been every bit as understanding as I have needed them to be. Prior to mobilizing for deployment into Afghanistan in February 2012, I attended several months of military schools and training. Some professors allotted me an entire year extension for my classwork, and others allowed me to finish my course early upon turning in required work. Even now, while I am still on active duty in the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), and spend five days a week going to physical therapy, medical appointments, surgeries and required accountability at a local reserve unit. My professors are extremely understanding of my schedule and equally as supportive. These good Samaritans are understanding of my military obligations, my recent learning disabilities (due to sustained traumatic brain injury), and most all of my current situation as a veteran and a student. However, these educators are not mind readers. You should be emailing and/or meeting with your professors to discuss your specific situation prior to even joining their class, and work out a relationship that provides both parties with fulfilled requirements and expectations.

 

Employment

One of the more common ways to get a job today is through networking. Veterans don’t often have a realm of associates or contacts involved in the civilian workplace. This means trying to assimilate ourselves back into a non-military career can be difficult. Future employers may not always interpret military experience on a resume positively. Knowing what include in one’s portfolio is vital to making a good impression, and one that does not shortchange your military service time and achievements. Multiple websites such as militaryonesource.com and military.com provide helpful information about creating such a portfolio. Additionally, many USOs offer career-building workshops. Disney offers the Veterans Institute workshop, which supports the hiring of veterans. Based on its “Heroes Work Here Initiative,” former service members are hired, trained and supported through Disney. (Heroesworkhere.disney.com) Make sure you also utilize your veteran preference for jobs. Whether the employers are private, federal, or state run, there are advantages out there for being a veteran.

Sadly, a study just taken in 2013 by the Wounded Warrior Project tells of negative career results for 14,000 Afghanistan and Iraq service members who were wounded in action. The survey shows that 18 percent of these men and women are unemployed. 30 percent claim that their mental health is the primary cause for not having gainful employment. Finally, 22 percent state that the lack of education greatly affects their ability to both have and retain a job. This is extremely upsetting.

I have a firsthand perspective on how disabilities can affect an individual’s work and state of mind. It should be known that there are programs and resources out there for all types of veterans ranging from disabilities to homelessness. Please get ahold of the VA, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, or just talk with other veterans who can help point you or someone you know in the right direction.

 

Student Veterans of America Chapter

https://www.facebook.com/EmuVets

Buddy to Buddy– Outreach and support for OIF/OEF veterans

www.buddytobuddy.org

1-888-82-BUDDY (8339) or Mark Lindke 734-891-2565

Contact buddytobuddyVVP@umich.edu

Seamless Transition– Healthcare  and Support for OIF/OEF veterans

Sarah Nowitzke, L.M.S.W. Program Manager. 734-845-3787

734-769-7100 ext. 55273

Disability Resource Center 734-487-2470

Veteran Crisis Hotline 800-273-8255

Disability Resource Center EMU- Schedule an appointment to help you be able to access the campus and your academics easier. 240 Student Center (734) 487-2470 Email: drc@emich.edu

www.navycollege.navy.mil

www.myhealthevet.com

 

Beyond the Campus

Veteran vacation to Hawaii for less www.halekoa.com

Strong Bonds- Family bonding and retreats- http://www.strongbonds.org/skins/strongbonds/home.aspx

Disney Florida discounted vacation- http://www.shadesofgreen.org/eligibility.htm

Disabled Veteran Hunting and Fishing- http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153–296039–,00.html

List of Michigan benefits-http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Home/Benefit_Library/State__Territory_Benefits/Michigan.html

 

My own ventures through the military and EMU have been long and satisfying. There are a few people who can take away my pay, NCO stripes, or medals, but no one can take away my scars and service to this country. I am now finishing my last year at EMU, and am proud of myself for persevering and working my way towards a degree. At a young age, I knew I wanted to help others. Although I will not be able to meet many of you in person, I can only hope that in some way, making a small portal of information will shed light on pertinent information for you or a veteran you know. I have put my efforts into making a single page that will equip you as transitioning warriors from the battlefield to the classroom and beyond.

 

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