President Barak Obama announced the drawdown of troops from Iraq on August 31, 2010, and the last troops left on December 19, 2011. Not since the end of the Persian Gulf War have so many veterans returned Stateside looking for work. With the job market still overcrowded with civilian workers displaced from the economic downturn, what can the returning veterans do?
One option is to take advantage of the new GI Bill, revised in 2009 for the first time in over 40 years, according to Beth Vezina, Enrollment Counselor and VA Certifying Official in the Office of Veteran Affairs at Bristol Community College.
The new version of the GI Bill pays for tuition and fees directly to the school, which allows veterans to attend school while their VA paperwork is pending. The old version required paying tuition and fees and getting reimbursed in a monthly stipend.
“If you’re not working, where do you get the funds to pay for it in advance?” Vezina said. “Because tuition and fees go directly to the school, we can allow the veteran to start classes.”
The amount of the benefits increased, too, in 2009. If a veteran is eligible for 100% benefits and is enrolled full time, the monthly stipend is $500 for books per semester and $1,600 per month for housing costs.
Benefits are based on length of time in service and how much of that occurred after 9/11. If the majority of the time was served after 9/11, the veteran can apply for benefits under the new G.I. bill. If not, they may be eligible for benefits under the older version, the Montgomery G.I. Bill.
Returning veterans can also get a tuition waiver under the Massachusetts National Guard Tuition Waiver program if they are Massachusetts residents. Courses cost about $166 per course, $75 of which is tuition.
VA certification takes four to six weeks. To get started, Vezina said they need to bring the #4 copy of their DD214 to the Office of Veteran Affairs where Vezina and her staff will walk them through the process.
Classes begin on January 24th, 2012. Application for admission to BCC is open year-round and typically takes up to three weeks. Some majors such as Health Sciences and Dental Hygiene are closed to open enrollment as they are filled on a competitive basis. But students can take General Studies to get basic classes out of the way while deciding on their major.
Once admitted, veterans get priority advisement, sit with a counselor, get VA certification, and register for classes in a single visit to the Office of Veteran Affairs.
And, thanks to Congressman Barney Frank, two new positions were created at BCC this past Fall semester through a grant from the Department of Labor to help BCC veterans find and get jobs once they graduate.
Joe Carvalho, the Veterans Service Job Development and Placement Coordinator and Michael Flanagan, the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor/Enrollment Counselor, work from the Fall River campus. Both are Viet Nam veterans and former educators. Flanagan helps veterans with academic planning from enrollment forward. He also helps them recognize their abilities, skills, and needs through vocational evaluations. And he prepares an individualized plan for their employment opportunities.
Carvalho’s job is to identify employment opportunities, and create a database of employers to match with veterans. The program is tailored to the veteran’s needs.
“We look at what students have acquired in school in the course of study and degree, and what military training and experience they have, and see if we can make a match with employers,” said Carvalho.
Another part of his work is to go into the community and educate companies about the benefits of hiring a veteran. A $10,000 tax credit is available to employers who hire a disabled Vet who has been out of work more than three months. Currently, there is legislation to increase the tax credit to $5,000 for non-disabled veterans who are out of work more than six months.
Currently there are 200 veterans attending BCC, according to Vezina. She said the number of veterans returning to school doubled in 2009 as a result of the Post 9/11 G.I. bill. She expects to see another jump in veteran enrollment in the coming year. And BCC is ready for them with the programs and the experienced staff to help them along.
Employers interested in the BCC Veterans’ programs may contact Joe Carvalho at 508-678-2811 ext. 3811.
For more information about BCC’s Office of Veteran Affairs, call 508-678-2811 or visit www.bristolcc.edu/Students/veterans/index.cfm.