Texas veterans may soon be getting increased benefits if two bills before the state Legislature are passed this spring.
State representative Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, submitted a bill earlier this month that would mandate the establishment of a veterans resource center at one higher education institution for each geographic region of the state. The bill breaks the state up into 10 geographic regions including Central Texas. The centers would serve their entire regions.
According to the bill, the centers would work to identify the services veterans and their families can use to optimize their pursuit of a college education. Other duties would include working with the institutions of higher education in their region to implement those services, raising awareness of veteran programs, ensuring that veterans successfully complete their education and promoting the establishment of a student veterans group on each campus in the region.
Government senior Marc Hamlin, Air Force veteran and vice president of the Student Veterans Association at UT, said the bill could provide increased legitimacy for the association that members could use to further its cause.
UT spokesperson Gary Susswein said the University cannot take an official stance on legislation, but UT works hard to help its veterans.
“UT is extremely committed to making our campus accessible and hospitable to military veterans and their families,” Susswein said. “We are regularly recognized as one of the top colleges in the nation for veterans and we offer myriad resources and services to our students who are veterans.”
The Veterans Resource Center at UT was established in November 2011 and works to assist veterans at UT by providing financial, academic, social and physical support. The center works to educate veterans at UT by informing them of the benefits available to them and is staffed by a full-time student veteran center coordinator and a licensed clinical psychologist.
Economics senior Stephen Ollar, president of the Student Veterans Association, said while the University works hard to ensure the success of its veterans, there is still work to be done.
“Any and all services which promote veteran reintegration into society and higher education are needed.” Ollar said. “UT could do more on this front.”
Ben Armstrong, student veteran coordinator for the Office of the Dean of Students, said roughly 655 veterans attend UT based on registration information.
Hamlin said the registrar’s office is often slow in providing certification for those veterans necessary for them to receive their benefits.
“We have a little home here and it is meant to take care of us,” Hamlin said. “The biggest downfall is the registrar’s office. Nothing is automated. Nothing is efficient.”
He has authored an amendment on behalf of the Student Veterans Association to the current state educational code that would force universities to customize parts of the registration process for veterans to speed it up and make it more efficient.
Hamlin said he has presented the amendment to a state representative, and he expects to see it filed and passed in the 2013 legislative session.
Another bill filed earlier this month by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, calls for increased flexibility in the transferability of veteran educational benefits to their families.
Current law requires beneficiaries of dead veterans’ educational benefits to be 25 or younger the first semester day they receive benefits. The bill would strike the age provision. It would also expand the scope of who would be allowed to oversee those benefits following the death of a veteran.
Hamlin said he supports both bills before the legislature and does not expect them to have any trouble passing, as services for veterans tend to be a fairly politically neutral issue that most politicians support.
“If you just keep it veterans alone, on its own separate bill, no attachments, earmarks or anything, it should pass,” Hamlin said.
Printed on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 as: Bills aim to improve resources for student veterans statewide