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As veterans return home, Oklahoma colleges and universities seek to handle their needs

The University of Central Oklahoma opened an office last month to help student veterans navigate university life. As veterans begin to enroll in larger numbers, colleges and universities across Oklahoma are seeking ways to handle their specific needs.
by Silas Allen Published: May 8, 2012

At other schools

UCO's office isn't the only one of its kind. Oklahoma State University's veterans services office has existed for decades.

But Assistant Registrar Paula Barnes said the office has seen changes in how it deals with student veterans.

Increasingly, Barnes said, representatives are dealing not with the veterans themselves but with their parents. In those cases, she said, the incoming student generally is deployed overseas, and parents are making arrangements on his or her behalf.

More and more, she said, student veterans seem interested in taking full advantage of their benefits. She fields more questions today than in past years about how veterans benefits cover things such as housing, she said.

Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City opened a similar office last year. Loretta Hatchett, coordinator for veteran services at OSU-OKC, said university officials decided a dedicated office was necessary when the university's student veteran numbers doubled after the Post-9/11 GI Bill was enacted.

Example of need

The need for the office was made clear in recent months, said Cory Teschendorf, an incoming student at OSU-OKC and a Navy veteran. Teschendorf left the Navy last year to go to college. He hopes to return to the Navy later as an officer, he said. But those plans were nearly halted when a typo on a form tied up his benefits.

“I was about to give up on my schooling,” he said.

Teschendorf worked with Hatchett and David Risinger, OSU-OKC's director of Educational Talent Search, to file an appeal. Eventually, his benefits were reinstated, and he plans to start school in August.

Risinger said stories such as Teschendorf's are an example of why student veterans need extra assistance. Their veteran status generally means extra paperwork, extra levels of bureaucracy and extra headaches, he said. Often, he said, veterans don't know where to begin.

“They don't know the answers to the questions,” he said. “They don't even know the questions.”

Dealing with scars

To make matters more difficult, Risinger said, student veterans sometimes have physical or mental disabilities that stem from their time in the military. Those students may need to be handled differently, he said, whether it means walking them through lines or making special arrangements for students who find a classroom setting difficult.

Risinger understands those students' situations better than most: He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder issues, an experience he willingly discusses with students, he said.

“If they have to be in line, then I want to be there with them,” he said. “Whatever it takes to get these guys through.”

by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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