Student veterans Karen Miranda looks through the Saddleback College catalog as Adam Scutte looks on. (Photo by Niko LaBarbera)
There are a growing number of veterans coming home from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of them are starting their college careers. Their service has earned them money for college, but many do not know what benefits are available to them. Saddleback offers personal counseling, including academic financial counseling through the Veterans Education and Transition Services on campus.
Before separating from the military, every service member must attend classes on base to help with the transition into civilian life through the Transition Assistance Program. This class discusses Veterans Affairs benefits, job placement and the GI Bill, however once former service members arrive on a college campus, most of them don’t know what to do to begin the process of receiving VA benefits through the GI Bill.
“Saddleback does send an official representative to Camp Pendleton to [advise] active-duty military on academic counseling, the same type of counseling that is provided here,” Jason Conway said, an employee of the VETS Center.
The information military personnel receive about the GI Bill in TAP classes is very general, due to the fact that many of the personnel will be going back to their home of record to start their college experience. It is up to each individual to research information on the veteran programs at their school of choice.
California has the largest population of veterans in this country, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s office. Saddleback College has around 500 veterans enrolled in classes either on or off campus.
“379 veterans here are using the GI Bill, but their are some that are not using the GI Bill,” said Karen Miranda from the VA Benefits office.
The VA Benefits office in the Student Services Center Room 208, is where veterans begin the process of getting their GI Bill started. “Most of the veterans hear about us through word of mouth,” Miranda said. ” They are usually not very knowledgeably on the steps to getting their benefits.”
Saddleback’s veterans’ office has counselors to help each veteran through the steps. These counselors can be located on campus, at the VETS Center in the SSC Room 207.
There’re two types of GI bills, the Montgomery Bill and the Post 9/11 Bill. Most of the veterans here use the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which pays for tuition, books and monthly housing allowance, or MHA. In order to get the MHA the veteran must be a full-time student.
Veterans at Saddleback are generally pleased with their experiences with the VA services on campus.
“It has been great so far, a much easier transition then I thought it would be,” said Zak Peel, 28, graphic design and photography. “They overpaid me once, and late payments are the only [other] problems that I have had.”
New veterans now have more opportunities to receive a college education.
“[New veterans should] visit the college and talk to the veterans counselor and other veterans that go to school,” Peel said.
If you know a veteran that wants to enroll in college, tell them to contact the VA office at their college of choice.