In the lower level of the Compton Union Building (CUB), four veterans sat in the ASWSU Student Veterans Committee (SVC) office, visiting between classes. Together, they have dedicated more than 20 years of service in the U.S. military. They served on tours around the world, including in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
None of them could have attended college without financial support from the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
This year, nearly 1,000 students at Washington State University are paying for school with help from a GI Bill. Two years ago, only about 620 students used the bill.
WSU veterans coordinator Matthew Zimmerman said the university, including branch campuses and distance learning, saw a 40-percent increase in students using the GI Bill in fall of 2010 followed by a 10-percent increase in fall of 2011.
The increase is the result of the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill on Aug. 1, 2009, he said. During the 2009-2010 school year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) educated service members about the new bill. Veterans started taking advantage of the opportunity in 2010, Zimmerman said.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides funding for higher education to veterans who served in active duty after Sept. 11, 2001. Those who served 36 months or more can receive 100 percent of their tuition and fees, $1,000 for books and a living allowance based on military calculations of cost of living by region, which is $934 a month in Pullman, Zimmerman said. Veterans can also choose to transfer their benefits to a child or spouse for their college education.
The post-9/11 bill offers better benefits than the previous Montgomery GI Bill, Zimmerman said. In a tough economy, many veterans choose to go to school because the cost is covered.
“My parents couldn’t afford to help me go to school, so without some grants or whatnot I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” said Stephon Westfall, a 26-year-old management and information systems major who served six years in the Air Force.
Westfall toured in Southeast Asia and serves with the Air National Guard. WSU waives about 50 percent of his tuition, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers half of the remaining 50 percent.
“I’ve just been really grateful of the opportunity to go to school through the GI Bill,” Westfall said. “I feel like it’s kind of a thank you for your service.”
Jake Fischer, a 24-year-old food science major, served four years in the Air Force where he was stationed in Japan, Iraq and Afghanistan. He said without the GI Bill, which pays 100 percent of his tuition and expenses, he could not have attended school.
“I think it’s awesome that I can go to class and not have to worry about where my money comes from,” he said.
Brian Michael Beleau, a 27-year-old civil engineering major who also receives 100 percent support through the bill, said veterans earned the money they receive for school. Beleau served six years in the Navy, touring the Malaysian islands and coast of Africa.
“I paid for my school,” he said. “I put the years in.”
The transition for veterans from combat to college can be challenging because they do not have a peer group, Zimmerman said. Generally, veterans are older than students they take classes with. They are also on a timeline to finish school in the four years covered by the bill.
“They just want to get their education done with the least amount of frivolous stuff,” he said.
Stephen Bassham, a 26-year-old hospitality business
management major, served for six year in the Air Force in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. He said one challenge in going from military to university is adjusting to significantly less structure in university life.
Fischer said not only the lack of structure but also the age difference can be challenging. The younger students in class do not always have the same notions of what is entertaining or funny.
“It’s kind of awkward taking classes with people who are 18 years old,” he said.
Westfall said his transition has been different from other veterans’ because he continued to serve in the Air National Guard and had less of a clean break from the military.
“My experience is just one snapshot of a whole spectrum of experiences out there,” he said. “But it’s been a good one so far.”
Beleau said the change from combat to college has been tough for him, but the SVC and their office in the CUB helps.
“It’s a nice kind of snug hole in the wall,” he said.
Zimmerman said WSU offers resources for veterans such as the SVC, counseling and a new veterans seminar class, UCollege 304. However, he said WSU faculty and staff treat veterans as they would any other student.
“We try not to single them out too much,” he said. “The input we get from veterans is that they don’t want too many special classes or anything. They just want to get in and get it done.”
Zimmerman said he expects to see a continued increase in students using the GI Bill at WSU during the next few years, but he is not sure how drastic the increase will be.
“Who knows what we’ll see with the end of the Iraq conflict,” he said.