University ramps up support for veterans on campus

March 2, 2009
by Madeleine O'Connor | Hatchet Reporter

The University announced last week that it has enrolled in the government-sponsored Yellow Ribbon Program as part of a greater effort to provide assistance to veterans on campus.

A product of the new GI Bill passed last year, the Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary agreement in which the U.S. Veterans Administration will match any financial aid that colleges provide to veterans.

The University has also hired a full-time staffer to oversee veteran's affairs, a move that is expected to help a growing number of enrolled veterans voice their concerns and interact with the GW administration. Graduate student Megan Keller is GW's first veteran services coordinator, charged with keeping University administrators informed of student veteran issues.

GW estimates that 300 veterans are currently enrolled, but with increased aid from the new GI Bill to take effect this August combined with the Yellow Ribbon Program, the University may draw increased numbers.

"I am learning about veteran services, certification, benefit policies, and all of this is very exciting to me," Keller wrote in an e-mail. "The veterans with whom I've worked have been exceptional in providing great feedback that will help us to continue to enhance services in the short and long terms."

GW veterans said they are pleased that GW chose to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

"The organization as a whole is really excited about [the Yellow Ribbon Program]," said senior Wade Spann, co-founder of the GW Veterans student organization. "A lot of these guys are dependent on that extra boost in money they'll be getting every month and I think that coming in August when that new bill is in effect, you're going to feel an influx of veterans on the campus."

"I think the new program will give vets more of an opportunity to get a better education without the hassle of a lot of student loans," added junior Kevin Blanchard, a veteran of the Iraq War.

Spann and Blanchard said that they are also pleased by the creation of the Veteran Services Coordinator position as a liaison to veterans. In the past, they said, the University was not always understanding of the financial strain under which many veterans find themselves.

"Sometimes it takes a lot for the veteran to get his benefits," Spann said.

"It's easy for veterans to get lost in the system," Blanchard said. "It's not that the University doesn't want to help, but there are a lot of programs the University just isn't aware of."

The VA recently released a preliminary list of maximum aid for college tuition and fees that veterans will receive under the new GI Bill. Aid differs depending on each veteran's home state, since the bill's tuition aid is based on the most expensive in-state public institution.

"GW's message to our veterans is that we don't have to settle for a less prestigious college if we have the grades to attend their university," said George Brunner, co-founder and spokesman for GW Veterans.

Additionally, extra funds are awarded based on the cost of living in a particular area. Students who live in D.C. will receive among the lowest amounts of money, with $657 per semester. Georgia, Guam, Kansas, South Carolina, Nevada, Rhode Island, and the Virgin Islands are the only areas that will receive less aid for educational expenses than D.C. student veterans.