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How to position yourself for success at Veterans Affairs

April 25, 2019 - 2:14 pm

In the military, you’re in a constant state of training for a real-world situation, but when you get out of the service, that conditioning shouldn’t end. In order to position yourself for success with the Department of Veteran Affairs and utilize your education benefits, it’s vital that service members prepare before putting on their uniform for the last time.

“Even before they go on a veteran status, while they’re still on active duty, veterans should know what they are eligible for, what is going to give them the most benefit over the long term", said Christy Coyne, the Assistant Director for Veteran Certification Training at University Maryland University College (UMUC).

Coyne has seen some of the troubles veterans face when deciding between their education benefits.

She suggests that veterans use the VA website's various tools during the college planning process. The GI Bill comparison tool is a great place to start for a service member who is trying to see what school is the best fit for them. The tool offers institutional data like tuition, housing allowances, and book fees, for prospective students.

"It also provides information like does the school offer Yellow Ribbon funding? Which is important if the student is an out-of-state student. Is there a dedicated veterans office on campus?" said Coyne. 

In addition to comparing school services, choosing which benefits to use is equally as important.

“Sometimes the Chapter 33 seems great,” said Coyne. “But if a veteran is getting out of the military and hasn’t reached the 36-month mark to get 100 percent, they’re going to be missing out and paying a lot of out of pocket costs.

Conducting all of this research while still on active-duty can seem like information overload. That’s where school advisers and certifying officials, like Coyne, come in handy.

“You are probably not the first person to not understand this…everyone at the school is there to help you…that’s our job, that’s what we're here for,” said Coyne. “Knowing that and being able to ask those hard questions when you’ve got three inches of paperwork to read through, sometimes you need someone to condense that down.”

One of the most consistent challenges Coyne encounters is educating veterans on how enrollment and withdrawal policies differ for various institutions. Often times, VA is willing to forgive some of the costs of a college course if a veteran withdrew, depending on the situation.

“When an institution reports a withdrawal, the VA will reach out to the student and asks if there any mitigating circumstances that the student can provide that would allow them to decrease that debt owed back,” said Coyne. “I’ve seen that many times in my career where people are just not aware of that."

The overarching trend to mitigate these challenges is for veterans to communicate their questions to the schools themselves. Whether it’s learning how distance learning or in-person classes can affect their benefits, or knowing the drop/add policies for a college, veterans should be asking these questions during their college search and when they get on campus.

But of course, Coyne also implores veterans to go straight to the VA for the answers. 

University of Maryland University College is a proud partner of Connecting Vets.

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