LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 11, 2010) − When veterans come to the University of Kentucky, they can expect support from the very beginning. One of the most important ways UK helps veterans navigate their college careers is through financial aid assistance. The help is welcome for veterans who have already had to do a lot of legwork to sort out paying for college.
"From the moment that someone gets out of the military, there is a stack of paperwork they have to fill out," said Tyler Gayheart, a veteran and UK computer support specialist in Financial Aid. "There's a lot of paperwork that goes into just getting the money that they are entitled to."
More than half of UK's approximately 500 student veterans are using the Post-9/11 version of the GI Bill, which provides more college financial assistance than ever for those who have served their country. But delays in GI Bill payments can present challenges to student veterans. This is where UK steps in.
"The GI Bill is a very robust package of financial aid for tuition, but it's well known that the process is slow," said Tony Dotson, director of UK's Veterans Resource Center. "The VA is just overwhelmed by requests for aid."
With so many student veterans using their GI Bill benefits, the resulting delays can potentially cause a student to have to quit school. This is an unfortunate reality for student veterans at some colleges - but not at UK. When a student decides to attend the university and gets accepted, they can take advantage of assistance like book vouchers, short-term, no-interest loans and fee waivers to help make the process easier.
"These delays tend to happen at the beginning, when they are first using their GI Bill," said Amy Southwood, UK's VA certifying official. "There can be a delay in the book stipend, a delay in the housing allowance and a delay in the tuition reimbursement. Things tend to run a lot more smoothly once they are in the system."
Until then, Southwood works closely with Paula Shifflett in Student Account Services to make sure student veterans do not incur any holds or late fees while they wait for their GI Bill benefits to come in.
"This benefit is designed to help them get their college education," said Southwood. "They've served their country and we want to make the process smoother."
All advising conference fees are waived for veterans, along with application fees, new student program fees and transcript fees. David Prater in Financial Aid can authorize short-term, no-interest loans to help student veterans cover housing expenses until their housing allowance is issued from the VA.
"If they owe the university, that's better," Dotson explained. "We don't want them owing creditors and landlords."
UK's staff in Financial Aid, Student Account Services and the Office of the Registrar, along with the Veterans Resource Center, are committed to helping student veterans navigate the financial aid problems that can arise when they first begin their college careers. The gains UK has made in recent years in clearing the way for student veterans have made a big difference.
"They've really streamlined the process to where it doesn't take five signatures to move the process forward," Gayheart said. "One or two people can get the veteran his benefits."
These improvements haven't just been noticed by veterans. "We were recently named a military-friendly school," said Linda Smitha, director of UK's Student Account Services. "We want to make sure we are helping our veterans."
Senior Associate Registrar Jacquie Hager encourages student veterans to be prepared for the process of getting their GI Bill benefits started. "Once they have made a decision to attend the university, have applied and been accepted, they need to contact Amy Southwood," she said. "The earlier they can get to her, the earlier they can get going."
Finally, if a student veteran is called to serve again, UK steps in to help. Hager said the staff works with veterans to ensure that they know the proper procedure for withdrawing with no academic or financial penalties.
"If they do get called up, and then come back to the university, Christy Freadreacea in the Office of Admissions makes it like they never left," Southwood said. "There are no fees, everything is still here."
Dotson credits UK for being willing to work with its student veterans to ensure their college careers remain on track in spite of financial aid challenges.
"There are a lot of schools who aren't financially positioned to be able to offer that flexibility," Dotson said. "A lot of times those students have to drop out. I had a mother call me the other day, and her son in California had been kicked out of school because of that. We're fortunate that UK is so willing to work with it."
For more information on making the transition from military to college, student veterans should visit the UK Veterans Resource Center in 124 Funkhouser Building, call (859) 257-1148 or go online to www.uky.edu/Veterans.