With increased numbers of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and a new GI bill, Shoreline Community College is developing a new plan for veteran support services.
“One of the most important things the campus community can do for veterans is to understand they are making a transition between two very different cultures,” said Kim Thompson, Director of Special Services and chair of the Campus Veterans Education Team. “One of our main responsibilities is to assist student veterans as they make that transition and learn to negotiate the post secondary system.”
The college is providing that support in the form of two people who have recently been assigned to ensure that our vets get all the help they need.
Angela Atkinson has been reassigned to the position of Program Coordinator for Veteran’s Services. Atkinson, formerly the Program Coordinator for High School Programs, is the point person for veteran’s benefits. She is well-versed in both the new and old GI bills so she can inform veterans about benefit packages so they make the right choices for their individual needs.
Both bills provide funding for vets to go to school but each bill is unique and meets specific needs. Under the old Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30), funding for a college education was sent directly to veterans and students had to pay for classes up front. Under the new Post 9/11 Bill, funding is sent directly to the college, making it easier for our veterans to enroll. Sounds pretty black and white? It’s not. Each plan looks different – and each veteran’s situation is unique. Making the right decision can be difficult, so Atkinson is there to help them by providing information.
“Some vets are better off with the old bill, and some, with the new bill,” said Atkinson, who helps each veteran work through the red tape and ensures that they understand the nuts and bolts of the bills before determining which plan to go with. “In the end, it is up to the veterans to decide whether or not they will go to school under the new or the old GI bill, but I am there to help provide resources so they make an informed decision. Once the students choose to switch from the old GI Bill they can’t go back. Their decision is irrevocable.”
Atkinson encourages faculty and staff to let veterans know that she is there to assist students in the transition from military to college life. Veterans who have run out of benefits should contact Angela, as they might qualify for a tuition discount. There are also Veteran Community activities posted in and outside her office. Angela wants to connect the Shoreline Veterans Community as much as they want to connect. She is located in FOSS 5226 and can be reached at 206-546-4645. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our vets also have someone else helping them thanks to an AmeriCorps grant. As a Veteran Navigator, Jonathan Phillips is making sure that once our vets are enrolled, they continue to get the support they need. He is working on a number of projects.
One of the first things on his “To Do List” is updating the college’s veteran’s Web site. Phillips said it is vital to keep veterans informed about federal news that may affect them as well as updated on college news.
“There is a lot going on that veterans should know about, and much of the time, they don’t,” said Phillips, who is a veteran. “For example, the Veterans Administration recently released at the last minute that vets didn’t have to go to Seattle to pick up checks as they could simply go online to get it. This was critical as logistically, many vets couldn’t get to Seattle, and trying to coordinate how to do this caused undo stress.”
The Web site will also provide information and links to partnership agencies such as the Veterans Administration and the Veterans Conservation Corps – “anything that will help them,” said Phillips. He has already established a calendar of events student veterans may be interested in such as ceremonies, like the annual Veteran’s Day Parade in Auburn, and various service projects around the state.
The Web site will also provide important college information. One of the announcements he is planning on putting on the new web site is that the college is bringing back a Veterans Club. “Cohort groups are powerful retention aids for colleges - we haven’t had one geared towards veterans since the 80s,” he said.
Phillips said the club will provide endless opportunities for vets to help vets and become leaders in their communities.
“My goals, dictated partly by AmeriCorps, the VetCorps, and Shoreline Community College, are to provide a place for vets to come together to share stories and support each other, host an array of speakers, join up with local agencies like Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding America Together, and furnish a venue to plan events, and workshops to educate students, faculty and staff about issues that today’s vets face,” said Phillips.
“It’s going to be their club. I want it to last long after I am gone,” said Phillips.
Phillips is working with other Veteran Navigators from more than 30 colleges and universities across the state along with Mark Fischer of the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs to coordinate a North Puget Sound Committee for Veterans. They hope to bring a larger veteran community together via community events.
The grant period ends June 30, 2010.
Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or call him at 206-533-6674.