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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

When James Willis enrolled as a freshman at the University of Central Oklahoma, he had questions.

Finding someone to answer those questions turned into an ordeal.

Willis, a U.S. Army veteran, is attending UCO on his educational benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. When he arrived at the school as a freshman, he was sent from one office to another looking for someone who could tell him where to go, what to do and what paperwork to fill out.

The experience was frustrating, he said.

“I went from one person to the next to the next,” he said.

Now, Willis is working to make sure other students such as him don't go through the same hassle. He is one of two student staffers at a new UCO office dedicated to helping student veterans navigate university life.

On the first floor of Nigh University Center, the office opened April 26. Primarily, the office serves as a liaison between student veterans and a range of university offices and other agencies that provide services, said Beth Adele, director of the office.

The idea, she said, is to give veterans a single place on campus to get answers for all their questions.

When students come to the office with problems or questions, staffers either find answers to those questions themselves or direct the student to the office that can help — ideally allowing them to avoid going from one office to the next looking for help.

In the past, Adele said, the university's Veterans Affairs office assisted student veterans with questions about financial aid. But no office existed to handle those students' academic, financial and social issues, she said.

Resolving problems

For example, she said, student veterans often run into problems when their benefits don't come through before the beginning of the semester. In those cases, she said, the office can connect students with interest-free emergency loans that allow them to enroll in classes, buy a few books and keep bills paid until they receive their benefits.

Having an office on campus that deals solely with student veterans' issues is especially important because of a rising number of veterans on college campuses, Adele said. At UCO, 610 students receive VA benefits. Adele said she expects to see that number climb to the mid-700s next fall.

The jump is the result of a number of factors, Adele said, including an influx of veterans' dependents who now qualify for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have worn on, more National Guard units have been affected, which also means more people are eligible for those benefits, Adele said.

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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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