Since July, 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid more than $624 million to educational institutions on behalf of U.S. veterans using their G.I. Bill and Post 911 G.I. Bill benefits to pay for education. Texas has the highest concentration of veterans in the country, with a large population living in the North Texas region. Texas also has the highest number of educational benefits claims filed by veterans in the country.
According to Fall 2009 UNT enrollment data, 739 enrolled students received federal Veterans Affairs benefits for the Fall 2009 semester — up 32% from 2008.
One of UNT's newest campus centers, the Veterans Center, was created to help meet the needs of the growing number of veterans enrolling at the university.
Center's creation and funding
U.S. Navy Veteran Yentl Smith,a medical technology senior, hangs out with fellow students.
In 2008, UNT conducted a study about veterans and veteran students. Several recommendations came out of that research, and two of them were to start a Student Veterans of America chapter at UNT and establish a Veterans Center to serve as a liaison for student veterans. The SVA chapter was founded in December, 2008 and the center opened in August, 2009. A portion of the student service fee paid by students supports the center's operations. In the 4 months it's been open, the center has served more than 120 individual student veterans.
Veterans Center purpose
Primarily, the center helps student veterans navigate the university's resources to improve their academic success. It assists new and current student veterans as they transition from the military to academic settings and its programs are designed to address the particular needs of transitioning student veterans. The center also helps spouses and dependants who are eligible for veteran education benefits.
The center is also the home of UNT's SVA chapter, a student organization that supports veterans and strives to improve the welfare of student veterans and their families.
Mona Hicks, dean of students, says that a sense of "comradeship is vital to student success" and the SVA chapter and Veterans Center staff help provide that element for UNT veteran students.
Students meet in front of the UNT Veterans Center.
UNT's Veterans Center:
- provides peer support — research shows that the best way to show new student veterans how to transition to college is with the help of fellow veterans
- helps navigate the resources available for student veterans
- is an advocate on campus for veterans and the issues they face
- provides one-on-one sessions to counsel veterans about educational benefits, in collaboration with the Registar's Veteran's Program Office
- helps veterans who are considering enrolling at UNT or who are transferring to UNT
- helps spouses, dependants and survivors of veterans who are receiving benefits transferred to them by their veteran spouse or parent
"The Post 9/11 Bill has dramatically increased veterans' access to college," Hicks says. "And UNT has the resources and commitment that is needed to meet the growing demand.
"Helping veterans is not only our opportunity to serve those who served our country, but by working with them we also have the opportunity to advance our research in areas like rehabilitation, hearing and mental health."
How to get help from the Veterans Center
Enrolled student veterans or student veterans who are thinking about enrolling at UNT can call the Veterans Center at (940) 369-8021 to speak with a service officer, or they can simply drop by the center's office on Level 3 of the University Union, Suite 320. The center is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Student veterans' greatest need
Hicks says she believes financial education and management is one of the greatest needs veterans have.
"Managing finances is very significant in the transition to civilian life, to support both educational costs and living expenses," she says. "The Veterans Center is developing a diverse financial program that will teach financial health and literacy and help students in financial crises."
To help with this need, the center recently added to the team a Veteran Financial Specialist from the Student Money Management Center who will work on programs to guide veteran students through their financial issues.
Hicks says as the center reaches out to students and continues to grow, she hopes to empower UNT staff and faculty members who are veterans to get involved with the center and student veteran issues.
"It's important to maintain that peer-to-peer support role," she says.
Right now, Hicks says the center will continue to focus on reaching out to student veterans, spreading the message of their services, train staff and assess the success of their programs. The most important thing, she says, is to keep educating student veterans about their educational options and help them get the benefits they risked so much to earn.