Vets in school

Veterans returning to school after leaving the military aren’t like the typical 18-year-olds starting out at Marietta College.

That’s why the college is continuing to evaluate its service to veterans and its participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps cover tuition and fees for veterans and their dependents.

“It’s a relatively new program in terms of what we’ve done here,” said Tom Perry, director of college relations. “We’ve already taken some steps to try to improve on it.”

Passed in 2008, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays full tuition and fees to public colleges and universities for in-state students. Benefits are capped at $18,077.50 for private schools, but the Yellow Ribbon Program allows institutions to provide funds which the Veterans Administration will match to cover all or part of the excess for students at private schools or attending out-of-state public colleges.

Marietta College currently has about 25 students receiving Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, at least 13 of whom have 100 percent of their tuition and fees covered by the Yellow Ribbon Program, Perry said. About half are veterans and the rest are dependents of currently enlisted military personnel.

One of the Yellow Ribbon recipients is Joseph Carpenter, a 27-year-old ex-Marine who lives in Marietta. He’s pursuing a geology degree because of the college’s reputation, but thinks MC has some work to do in serving veterans.

“They need like a veteran representative to say, ‘This is how your GI Bill works; you can live on campus but you have to pay for it,'” Carpenter said.

Carpenter doesn’t live on campus but said he’s had friends who did not realize their GI benefits didn’t cover room and board. He’s also not pleased that things like a health insurance charge (he’s covered by the VA) and a recreation center fee (which he said he doesn’t use) are included on his bill, and that he didn’t know they were until midway through his first semester.

“They don’t explain to you your bill,” Carpenter said. “There’s a lot of stuff on there that I don’t need.”

Perry said he couldn’t speak to individual circumstances and fees, but there are some charges that are required either by law or school policy.

“(Veteran students) receive the same education; they receive the same opportunities on campus, so, yes, all the fees apply,” he said.

As for the residency requirement, that is decided on a case-by-case basis, but Perry said veterans often can be exempted for reasons like living in the area or being married.

Carpenter also felt the college could have done a better job responding to issues he was having with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Changes have been made, but it took a while, he said.

Perry said he could not address that specific situation but in general the college does make adjustments to meet the needs of students.

Carpenter said he didn’t go through orientation like students coming from high school, and didn’t feel the need to do so. But he does think there should have been a separate orientation or more information provided up front from a dedicated veterans representative. Such an individual could also direct veterans to local VA centers in town and other places from which they can receive services.

Perry said one of the steps a committee evaluating the program is considering is putting an employee who is also a veteran in place as a liaison to students who are veterans “so we can try to be more responsive to any concerns that these individuals might have.”

One person expected to be involved with the effort is Jeff Bailes, a physician assistant at the college’s Dr. J. Michael Harding Center for Health and Wellness and a 24-year Army veteran.

“It’s important that the veterans have a voice,” Bailes said. “I don’t know how else to describe it other than that it’s a brotherhood. You watch out for your brothers.”

Other changes could be made, including an orientation specifically for non-traditional students, Perry said. The opinions of veterans are important in the process, he said.

“We’re looking to them to help us develop the program,” Perry said. “We want to improve the program as much as they do.”

Both Marietta College and Washington State Community College are listed as “military friendly” schools on the website www.militaryfriendlyschools.com, run by the publication G.I. Jobs.

Washington State had 89 veterans enrolled in the 2012-13 school year. It has a veterans club and is still considering establishing an introductory college skills course specifically geared toward veterans.

Both schools also allow military experience to count for credit toward a degree or certificate. Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, earlier this year reintroduced a bill that would require all public colleges and universities in Ohio to do so. The bill also encourages schools to set up networks with veteran alumni to help link veterans to potential jobs.

“We want to place an emphasis on ensuring that all public institutions are veteran-friendly,” he said.