For previous generations, the word "veteran" was nearly synonymous with an older individual. However, with service members returning from combat duty in recent years, the face of the veteran has changed to reflect a younger generation.
At universities across the nation, increasing numbers of these young veterans are enrolling in degree programs, and many veterans have begun to express the difficulty they have in transitioning from military life to starting college. At UNT, the Veterans Center is helping the nation's service members by easing the transition and officially opened Aug. 24. Already, UNT has held sessions at orientations targeted to student veterans.
The Veterans Center will expand work already being done by UNT's Student Veterans Association, which, since spring 2009, has helped veterans navigate the university's resources and deal with issues this population commonly experiences.
The officers of the Student Veterans Association can attest to the complications because they've experienced them. They say that the problems veterans experience in college include things like applying for financial aid, dealing with mental trauma, and figuring out what state and national benefits for which they are eligible.
For them, the problems veterans face as they transition are rarely considered by those who haven't served in the armed forces.
Cary Ziegler, president of the association, says one of the issues veterans experience is finding employment. She says it can be challenging for veterans to list employment references, because many of their potential references are still in combat and therefore unreachable.
She also noted that many veterans consider dropping out of college, because they are unable to find the help they need.
In addition to providing support, the center also can direct veterans to resources to help navigate through the Post 9/11 GI Bill process. The bill can be confusing for veterans, according to Bobby Lothringer, associate registrar and veterans affairs certifying official.
"One of the biggest items of confusion that we have noticed is a large number of veterans didn't realize they had to apply to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the new GI Bill," Lothringer says. "Also, a large number didn't seem to know anything about it until it hit the news on Aug. 1, even though this information has been out there for many months. So a large number are behind in receiving the benefit by fall because they have not started the application process – which, according to the Veterans Affairs web site, is currently taking about eight weeks."
He added that there are many other changes in the bill that veterans don't understand and that his office is trying to help them find the answers so they can determine which entitlement program is best for them.
"This year we implemented sessions at the transfer and freshmen orientations to help get information into the veterans' hands early," he says. "Our biggest challenge is that there are a lot of new veterans coming to school that we don't know about until they come to our office to see us."
UNT also formed the "Collegiate Access and Success for Our Troops and Their Families Advisory Committee" composed of faculty, staff and student veterans to work toward best assisting veterans' needs.
Already, UNT has a large number of students receiving GI Bill benefits. Last year, more than 600 veterans received benefits to students at UNT from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The center will give veterans a clear place to go to for information and let them know the university wants to help. With the assistance of the Student Veterans Association of UNT, the university will provide a complete support system to help veterans throughout the university succeed in their academic endeavors.
For more information, call the UNT Veterans Center at 940-369-8021. The center is open from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Friday.
Monique Bird with UNT News Service can be reached at Monique.Bird@unt.edu.