Magazine article University Business

Maximizing Financial Aid for Veterans: What Administrators Can Do to Help Veterans Take Advantage of Education Benefits

Magazine article University Business

Maximizing Financial Aid for Veterans: What Administrators Can Do to Help Veterans Take Advantage of Education Benefits

Article excerpt

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN new veteran education benefits will be available next year. The challenge is getting veterans to take advantage of all the benefits available to them.

The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new GI Bill recently signed into law, and increased veterans benefits in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) should provide ample motivation for higher education leaders to review their veterans' support systems to ensure they are doing all they can to help veterans afford and complete college.

Both veterans and leaders at IHEs face significant challenges trying to secure all of the education benefits available to vets. This is primarily because veterans' educational benefits come from a variety of sources and a host of programs. Many veterans are eligible for military educational benefits from Veterans Affairs; financial aid from federal, state, and local sources; disability benefits; living support from community services; and more. Add to this the new GI Bill, which provides substantial increases in aid and new benefits, plus new benefits in the HEA, and it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to keep track of them.

Because of the variety of sources that provide veteran education aid, many veterans don't take advantage of all possible benefits. Many aren't aware that specific types of aid are available, and many more have inaccurate assumptions about benefit programs. For example, some veterans don't apply for federal student aid because they assume that their military educational benefits make them ineligible for federal student aid.

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To help veterans navigate the complicated financial aid process, institutions should work to provide a one-stop shop to give veteran students information about all the possible benefits in one location. Providing a one-stop shop requires various offices on campus to work closely together to provide all relevant information in one location. Ideally, the veteran affairs, financial aid, admissions and various academic departments would collaborate to provide aid, admission, academic and living support to veterans to ensure full access and success at the institution.

It's not always possible for an institution to provide all this information in one physical office. At the very least, IHEs should create a web center with all pertinent information for veteran students.

In addition to helping veterans get all the aid and support they need, collaborating to create this one-stop shop will help train staff in various offices about support systems for veterans offered throughout the campus and in the community. This will help staff better serve veteran students and increase the chances that veterans will get the right information.

For example, an admissions counselor who is familiar with financial aid and veteran education benefits can provide veterans with the forms they need from the financial aid and veteran affairs offices, as well as from other on-campus support groups and benefits. This person could also inform veterans that there may be special circumstances that allow financial aid administrators to use professional judgment to increase their aid eligibility.

PREPARE TO ADMINISTER NEW BENEFITS

New veteran education benefits in the updated GI Bill and 2008 amendments to the HEA provide a good opportunity to begin greater collaboration between relevant offices to better support veterans. They will also help ensure institutions are ready to administer the significant influx in veteran education aid that's provided by Congress.

Beginning August 1, 2009, the federal government will begin supplying additional educational aid to veterans who served in the armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and had an honorable discharge or a discharge due to a medical condition. These soldiers will be eligible for at least three kinds of educational benefits: tuition benefits, housing stipends, and an allowance for books. …

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