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IWP students evaluate the VA’s interactions with the Institute

Christian Myles and Joseph Ryan, both members of the IWP Class of 2019, recently completed an evaluation of the relationship between IWP, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) Vocational Rehabilitation and G.I. Bill representatives, and the IWP student veteran population.

This project, which they completed as their hands-on project for Amb. Philip Hughes’ The Art of Diplomacy Class, also involved an in-class presentation, followed by remarks from Kristine Nimmo, VA Vocational Rehab representative, and Hasanna Tyus, IWP’s Veteran’s Affairs Certifying Official.

Leveraging a military background

Joey Ryan, who originally came up with the idea for this project, teamed up with Christian Myles because of his work with the military. Christian joined the United States Army after high school and served for almost 23 years. During his career in the Army, he served with Special Operations Command Korea, Special Forces Detachment Korea, 1st Special Forces Group, 10th Mountain Division, and 18th Airborne Corp. His assignments include operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom among a variety of global contingencies.

Researching challenges for student veterans

As part of the research for this project, Joey and Christian obtained perspectives from IWP administrators, DVA representatives, and student-veterans in an effort to uncover challenges during the transition from military to graduate school and provide possible solutions.

Joey and Christian interviewed four IWP student-veterans to learn about their transition to graduate school. The student-veterans who participated in this project had an average age of 30 years old and served in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the United States Army (USA). The service component for these student-veterans included time in both active duty and reserve roles for an approximate service length of eight years. During the term of service, the IWP student veterans who participated in this project served in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Okinawa, Germany, and at various locations across the United States.

Key challenges that they uncovered included the fact that IWP administrators and certifying officials often have to deal with a high turnover rate of Vocational Rehab and Employment counselors at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The turnover rate of counselors also generates strains on enrollment processing for the student-veterans. Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment counselors are charged with navigating an incredibly bureaucratic system, specifically during the process of getting a student-veteran’s class schedule certified and approved each semester.

Meanwhile, the process of a veteran transitioning from the military to graduate schools relies significantly on varying levels of personal relationships. These relationships can be significant challenges in some cases. One instance is if the student-veteran is unmotivated or unorganized; this can cause registration and tuition payments to be delayed.

For student-veterans who are not in the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, the benefits are through the G.I. Bill. The G.I. Bill system is effective, but the student-veteran must be very self-motivated and plan ahead. This is essential, because there is no personal counseling relationship as part of the G.I. Bill program; all issues or claims relating to benefits across the United States are divided into three regions and serviced by three offices. Most of the contact with G.I. Bill support is done over the phone on an automated system.

Recommendations for the student veteran experience

After uncovering these challenges, Joey and Christian recommended that regular meetings between school certifying officials and G.I. Bill/VRE representatives would be an effective measure to protect against an overly bureaucratic system, although the VA would probably lack the capacity to allow such regular exchanges.

In all cases, Joey and Christian noted, it is essential for the student-veteran to take self-initiative and be active in their own case management.

Joey and Christian noted that certain antiquated elements of the G.I. Bill could be re-evaluated as well. One such element is that G.I. Bill recipients only have 36 months to complete their education. 36 months has been the term since the G.I. Bill was first put into law and may no longer be practical in today’s academic environment. It is also imperative that schools understand the existing MOUs with the Department of Veteran Affairs. Enforcing the MOUs could potentially cause the DVA to streamline some overly bureaucratic elements.

Welcoming student veterans systematically

Based on these recommendations and discussions with the Student Veterans Association, IWP will be implementing a new process on the admissions application to ask the question specifically: “Are you a Veteran?” The names of new admits who answered “Yes” will be forwarded to the Student Veterans Association for early connection and outreach.

In addition, IWP will explore attending conferences for VA School Certifying Officials, where VA Representatives and school certifying officials within a given region discuss hot topics and best practices.

Christian commented: “We hope this project ultimately helps with refining the troop transition process, ensuring timely payments, and synchronizing efforts between institutions of higher learning, the GI Bill® departments, and the Department of Veteran Affairs.”

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