Minnesota leads nation in veteran assistance

More than 700 veterans receive benefits that allow them to attend the University of Minnesota.

Taryn Wobbema

With two wars happening simultaneously, the University of Minnesota has spent the last four years building its services to assist veterans seeking education post-deployment. During a Board of Regents committee meeting on Thursday, the UniversityâÄôs One Stop Student Services boasted its place as a leader in the nationâÄôs effort to reintegrate soldiers by providing higher education. Nationally, itâÄôs a process characterized by confusion. Carin Anderson , senior veterans coordinator for One Stop, said itâÄôs her officeâÄôs goal to help veterans get their benefits as easily as possible. Data from 2009 shows the University had 777 veterans certified to receive benefits across all its campuses. Of those, 597 attend the Twin Cities campus. âÄúAll veterans, whether they have seen combat or not, face a major transition when reintegrating from military to civilian and college life,âÄù Anderson said. After serving in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 with the Wisconsin National Guard, Anderson recalled struggling with the transition from soldier to civilian life. She said tasks like writing papers were difficult because the detailed instructions of the military donâÄôt make the transition into the classroom. While the University has had veterans services for a long time, the One Stop office opened almost four years ago. ItâÄôs staffed with four coordinators, including Anderson, four student workers and a Veterans Affairs regional coordinator. Sue Van Voorhis , director of University academic support resources, said the University leads the way in support services because, âÄúfour years ago, we knew this would be coming.âÄù As of Feb. 16, 13,000 soldiers and airmen were said to be in the Minnesota National Guard , according to its Web site. Currently, more than 1,000 are deployed âÄî 907 are serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Minnesota veterans are eligible for 100 percent tuition reimbursement at the University, according to Minnesota National Guard spokeswoman SFC Melanie Nelson. Anderson said it depends on how long the soldier is deployed. She was gone for one year and would be eligible for 60 percent tuition reimbursement, she said. Under the new GI Bill that went into effect last August, soldiers who have served since Sept. 10, 2001 are eligible for undergraduate tuition, housing assistance and book stipends. Benefits can also be transferred to spouses and dependents. A survey of a Minnesota brigade combat team that returned in 2008 showed that 79 percent of the soldiers, mostly in their 20s, wanted counseling to pursue higher education, Nelson said. Most of the veteran students attending the University are between the ages of 23 and 27. On top of the Student Veterans Association , Disability Services , Boynton Health Service and University Counseling and Consulting Services , veterans at the University have access to an orientation program, career services and special grants and scholarships. A $100,000 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation allowed veterans services to give 14 scholarships and 11 internship grants for each semester this year. ItâÄôs all geared toward helping these students transition as easily as possible. As a former guardsman, Regent Dean Johnson said a soldierâÄôs pride can keep him or her from seeking help, but the war experience requires it and education can help normalize life again. âÄúOnce deployed into combat, you are never the same person,âÄù he said. – Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter