UW Communications / Jeff Miller
The UW's new veterans center aims to help students with military ties access government funding and acclimate to campus life.
College students with military ties face numerous challenges. They must make the adjustment from active duty to campus life and try to navigate all the complexities of an updated GI Bill, which provides benefits to eligible veterans like assistance with tuition and living expenses. But now student veterans at UW-Madison have a new ally in the Veteran Services and Military Assistance Center, which opened May 15.
Located on the 10th floor of the UW-Madison Student Services Tower at the 333 East Campus Mall building, the center is a collaboration between the university's registrar office and Division of Student Life. It aims to help students understand and access the resources available to them.
"One of our goals is to remove barriers student veterans encounter in relation to their service so that they can focus on the reason they are here -- to be a student and to earn a degree," says Joe Rasmussen, who works with students receiving GI benefits.
Rasmussen says the center will serve as a "one-stop location" for military-affiliated students, who, in a typical semester, include 550 to 600 prior-service veterans and current military members, 150 to 200 military dependents and 150 to 200 ROTC students.
Rasmussen says these students have myriad federal and state benefits available to them, including the Post 9/11 GI Bill, VA Home Loan Program and VA health care. Staff at the veterans center can help students understand their eligibility and fill out the paperwork when applying for these programs.
The need for veteran services on campus has grown substantially, says Rasmussen. "We have had an enormous growth of veterans returning to school in recent years. In fall 2005, approximately 100 students were taking advantage of federal GI Bill benefits at UW-Madison. Today we have almost 450 students using federal GI Bill benefits."
The center also serves as a resource for less tangible challenges associated with returning to civilian life. Rasmussen says the transition is easier when military-affiliated students have assistance in getting acclimated to the campus setting quickly. One strategy is partnering with the student organization Veterans, Educators, and Traditional Students. This helps military-affiliated students make connections with peers as soon as they arrive on campus.
"The early engagement allows interested students a chance to develop a relationship with campus right away and helps to create a welcoming atmosphere," says Rasmussen.
The center has a space designated for use by third parties such as federal and state officials, employers and academic advisers. It will also be able to host representatives from the Dane County Veteran Service Office and the VA Hospital.
"Now that much of what had been done in separate offices can be done in one place, a short-term project is to improve already existing services," says Rasmussen. "We are strengthening and establishing partnerships with campus and community partners and will begin hosting them this fall in the guest office space. We designed that space intentionally to bring in services that our student veterans have identified as important."
In the long term, the Veteran Services and Military Assistance Center hopes to advocate for military-related issues on campus, develop a tutoring program, offer a veteran-specific course and welcome new students at orientation. The center ensures that "there will always be a resource for veterans and their families at UW-Madison," says Rasmussen.