NKU gets its very own ‘band of brothers’

Transitioning back to civilian life after being on active duty or in a combat zone can be difficult. Add to that transition going to college and you have a unique set of challenges for veterans pursuing higher education.

With those challenges in mind, groups such as V.E.T.S (Veterans for Education and Transition Support) and the Veterans Advocacy Committee (VAC) were formed.
‘The people at NKU were very supportive,’ said Bill Schwartz, a sophomore secondary education major, ‘but there was no support group for us coming in.’

Schwartz explained that though the Veteran’s Administration (VA), a government organization dedicated to assisting veterans, offered some help, he still had no peers to talk to about things such as how to register for classes or convert his military experience over to a civilian transcript so he could get credit for his work in the military.

Citing these challenges, a group of NKU students began V.E.T.S. in spring 2009 as a way to provide help to veterans and their supporters on campus. The NKU chapter is the first one recognized in the Greater-Cincinnati area by its national organization, Student Veterans of America.

Schwartz said he retired after spending 22 years in the infantry out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina and began at NKU in the fall 2008 semester. He is also currently the publicist for V.E.T.S.

The group offers a mentoring service, gives tours of the campus and provides points of contact for medical and dental coverage, among other services.

Adding to the support V.E.T.S. provides, the Veterans Advocacy Committee was formed this year. Dave Merriss, the director of the One Stop Center and chair of the committee, explained that it is made up of 30 faculty members from across campus who are interested in furthering the support offered to veterans.

The committee meets to review NKU policies and how they affect veterans. When necessary, they offer recommendations to improve policies and increase awareness of veterans on campus.

Merriss’ son is currently serving in Iraq, along with his brother who completed his bachelor’s and master’s while on active duty. The issue of support for veterans hits close to home, especially for Merriss.

‘Imagine,’ Merriss said, ‘being in Iraq knowing you are about to be released and knowing that you want to pursue a degree when you get home.’

Part of what the VAC does is coordinate efforts across the university to help get potential students in distant parts of the world enrolled at NKU.

Calling himself the ‘welcome wagon’, Merriss helped coordinate a meeting between a Marine Gunnery Sgt. applying for admission to NKU while he is still on active duty and Jeremy Lovell, the president of V.E.T.S., who gave the marine and his wife a tour of the campus.

Merriss and Lovell also helped arrange a meeting with the College of Education and Maria Reverman, who handles applications for aid for veterans in the Registrar’s office.
Merriss said that there are currently more than 300 veterans receiving benefits.

‘The problem with (the) old programs is that they don’t pay enough,’ Merriss said.
Under the new Post 9/11 GI Bill, veterans typically receive fall and spring tuition paid for three years, plus a $1,263 monthly living stipend for nine months and a $1,000 book stipend for the year, Merriss said.

Reverman explained that there are different qualifications to receive one of the different ‘chapters’ of aid. To be eligible under the new bill, the student would have had to been on active duty for at least 90 consecutive days after Sept. 11, 2001. If the student qualifies 100 percent for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, they are also entitled to funds under the Yellow Ribbon Program. This aid is offered to six undergraduate, five graduate and five law students with a cap of $2,500 per student per year. Reverman said that there are only five undergraduates, three graduates and one law student using the Yellow Ribbon Program benefit.

Schwartz explained that many veterans do not know aid is available to them. To help combat this, V.E.T.S. is holding a seminar tentatively slated for late November to explain the benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and who is qualified. The group is also working with the History and German Departments on Projekt Mauer, a celebration of the anniversary of the Berlin Wall.

Currently, Schwartz said V.E.T.S. is looking for ways to raise money for the group. Anyone interested in joining the group is encouraged to e-mail Jeremy Lovell at jeremy.lovell@gmail.com or Bill Schwartz at schwartzw1@nku.edu. They have also set up a Blackboard site that anyone can join to get information about upcoming events. To be added to the group, just contact Lovell or Schwartz.

The next meeting for V.E.T.S. will be from 5 to 6 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Student Union, room 105. After the meeting there will be a barbeque and cornhole games.