When the resolve doesn’t meet the rhetoric

Stephen Ollar

One would be hard-pressed to find anyone advocating against doing everything possible for the veterans of our nation’s two most recent wars. Most Americans recognize the great adversity those veterans face today. The unfortunate reality is that veterans’ needs are not being met by the entities that are supposed to work on their behalf. One of these is the Registrar’s Office here at the University of Texas at Austin.

In order for student veterans to receive the federal and state benefits promised to them by the Veterans Administration, the University of Texas must first certify the eligibility of their classes. That requirement is currently the largest road block preventing student veterans from accessing their education benefits, which cover tuition, books and a monthly stipend for housing.

Since the war in Iraq has ended and as the conflict in Afghanistan comes to a close, the number of veterans seeking educational opportunities has greatly increased. At UT’s veterans’ banquet last year, a guest speaker from the Student Veterans of America spoke about the exponential growth in veteran enrollment  across the nation. Despite this trend, UT has failed to hire an adequate number of Registrar personnel to handle the growing burden class certification presents.

The challenges student veterans face in the certification process include complex requirements, uncertainty, frequent delays and lost paperwork. My own paperwork for the summer semester was lost and my paperwork for the fall semester has only just been certified after five months. From my discussions with personnel within the Registrar, I know out of the roughly 750 individuals using VA benefits, only about 150 were certified as of the third week of classes. Veterans are a distinct group within the university in that none of us are claimed as dependents. Many students, if they encounter delays with financial aid, can call on parents to provide financial assistance. Veterans, on the other hand, have gone out into the world, worked full time jobs, paid taxes and become self-sufficient. We generally do not have the luxury of hiding under our parents’ financial umbrella. We pay for our educations with VA benefits and savings from our time in the military, and delays in certification mean that we must cover our tuition out of pocket. I have been required to sell shares of my retirement funds to cover costs that were supposed to be paid by federal and state programs. Delays like these create financial burdens for veterans and reduce the effectiveness of programs designed to support their transition into civilian life.

I am not accusing the Registrar’s Office of malicious intent; indeed my observation has been that they are committed to doing all they can to aid student veterans. Rather, it seems that they’re understaffed and unequipped to handle veterans’ needs and the certification process. If UT is committed to serving student veterans’ needs, they need to hire more personnel and streamline the certification process.
Ultimately what is really required is a paradigm shift in the way UT views veteran benefits. Student veterans do not regard these VA programs as “benefits” but rather payment for services rendered. They were guaranteed in our enlistment contracts and many of us paid into the system during our military service. These benefits should be recognized as a paycheck veterans earned for their sacrifices. When they are recognized as such, the obstacles that UT has put in veterans’ way are clearly inexcusable. If UT President William Powers, Jr. went months without salary, there would be administrative hell to pay, but for the roughly 700 student veterans on campus it is allowed to happen semester after semester.

Ollar is an economics senior from Midlothian, Texas and the president of the UT Student Veterans Association.