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Serving those who served
QU helping veterans regain control
Jason B. Burke has a wide, welcoming smile, a confident handshake and a little corner office in the north wing of the Arnold Bernhard Library. He drinks from a white ceramic coffee mug with a cartoonish bald eagle printed on the side. Underneath the soaring symbol of freedom, in all caps, is his nickname: “Jake.”
A small banner is pinned to a corkboard to the left of his desktop computer. Its edges are decorated in red, white and blue stripes. In the center, in bold font, it reads: “Serving Our Country.” Overshadowed by the set of shelves on the wall above it, the sign is easy to miss, however it sends a message about Burke and what he represents at the university.
As a 26-year Navy veteran and member of Veterans of Foreign Wars USA, Burke knows what it means to serve. But now that he has retired from the armed forces, he wants to help other veterans — namely, those looking to go back to school.
Veterans are more likely to be enrolled in college than their civilian counterparts, according to “Unemployment, Earning and Enrollment among post-9/11 Veterans,” a study conducted by Meredith Kleykamp at the University of Maryland. The numbers from this study show that veterans understand the vitality of a college education and are looking to take advantage of their benefits to earn degrees of their own.
Earlier this year, Burke was appointed director of veteran and military affairs, a position that is new to Quinnipiac as of summer 2013. He works with both undergraduate and graduate student veterans at the university to help them make the most of their veterans’ benefits.
Based on what he has seen from his position at Quinnipiac, Burke believes the influx of troops at universities is increasing rapidly. He says because of the downsizing of Army, Marine Corps and Navy troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, more and more troops are returning home, and returning to school.
“It is up to the universities to establish a system that can help veterans through the process of enrolling as full-time students,” Burke said. “It’s going to be an increasing population, and it trickles down to the universities to support that.”
Up until this academic year, student veterans at Quinnipiac were expected to bounce around from the Bursar’s Office to the Office of Financial Aid to the Office of Admissions while they tried to sort out their financial benefits, class registration and housing situations.
“I am fortunate to be an advocate for our student veterans and hopefully reduce their strain of ping-ponging between campus offices,” Burke said.
Universities can support the growing number of student veterans by making them aware of the educational benefits they are eligible for.
An estimated 2 million veterans are not receiving pensions from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because they do not know about them, according to a brochure by the Office of Advocacy and Assistance at the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs.
Some veterans’ benefits are delayed simply because the paperwork is too confusing to fill out without assistance, said Dr. Linda S. Schwartz, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs.
At Connecticut’s Office of Advocacy and Assistance, however, certified veterans’ service officers are working to combat that exact problem. They assist veterans and their dependents in uncovering exactly what benefits they can receive from the state.
Furthermore, these veterans’ service officers (VSOs) help veterans fill out the confusing paperwork that is required to receive compensation from the federal VA. They give second opinions and find errors which may be contributing to delays.
The office of advocacy and assistance also said the VSOs help veterans receive three times the benefits they normally would without assistance.
A Pew Research Center study of 1,853 veterans shows 27 percent of veterans reported having a difficult time re-adjusting to their civilian lives post-deployment. However, this number rises to 44 percent among post-9/11 veterans.
The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is one of the many benefit programs veterans can take advantage of, as they take the necessary steps to regain control over their civilian lives.
According to The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, participation in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in 2011 exceeded participation rates in all other G.I. Bills since 1984.
The bill provides financial assistance to veterans who served active duty for at least 90 days after Sept. 11, 2001. Student veterans at Quinnipiac who meet these requirements and also take at least 12 credits per semester are eligible for veteran benefits from the G.I. Bill.
Matthew Bolton, president of the Student Veterans Organization at Quinnipiac, is taking full advantage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the tuition payment, monthly housing allowance and book stipend it provides him.
As a five-year Navy veteran, Bolton was deployed three times. He served two tours in the Middle East supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He also served one tour in Central America while on a humanitarian mission.
“The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill itself pays for the highest in-state tuition in full,” he said.
Essentially, this means the bill covers half of Bolton’s tuition. The federal VA picks up the tab for the other quarter, and the university itself pays for the remaining quarter.
Bolton is currently in his third year of the occupational therapy program. Without the financial assistance he receives through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Bolton said he would have never had the opportunity to study at Quinnipiac.
“I love it,” he said. “I’m blessed.”