UW-Madison Opens Student Vets Center

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UW-Madison Opens Student Vets Center

Premiere Date: 
May 23, 2014

UW-Madison Assistant Dean John Bechtol works in the center for vets and military members.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Military veterans hold a special place in our communities and now military veterans who are students at UW-Madison have a special place of their own. The Veterans’ Services and Military Assistance Center just opened on Campus. Its mission? To improve the student veteran experience. Their numbers are growing. In 2005 UW-Madison had about 100 students using federal GI benefits. This year it was 450. All told there are some 600 veterans and current military members, and about 200 ROTC students enrolled each semester. Assistant Dean of Students, John Bechtol, is one of two staffers at the center. He joins us now. Thanks for doing so.

John Bechtol:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why is this veterans’ center needed on campus?

John Bechtol:

Well, students-- and really by veteran we're talking about service, students, current members of the guard and reserve. We have some ROTC students that fall in, that are active duty, some that are guard reserve. So there's a myriad of military affiliated students. And helping those students negotiate all the different benefits, everything from tutoring to tuition assistance, that's what we're there to do. We're there to really make the fact that they are veterans not be a burden. We don't put them at an advantage over other students, but we want to make the case-- or make the fact that they are affiliated with the military not a burden to them.

Frederica Freyberg:

In fact, make it a positive experience.

John Bechtol:

A positive experience.

Frederica Freyberg:

Yes.

John Bechtol:

But any challenges they face should be the challenges that any new student at UW-Madison will face.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because what kinds of unique challenges might a student veteran encounter once they land on a college campus like this?

John Bechtol:

Right. So we'll have a student, say, coming off active duty, and they have in their mind they’re going to use the Post-9/11 GI bill, but they are also interested in perhaps going into the guard or reserve, or maybe doing ROTC. We sit down with them and say, okay, what are your long-range educational goals? Are you looking to attend grad school? If that's the case, if you join the National Guard, you can use the Guard Reimbursement grant, have that cover your undergrad tuition and save that federal GI bill that you earn while you're on active duty to use during your graduate school. And help them plan out, give them options, and help them make an educated decision on how to maximize their benefits.

Frederica Freyberg:

That's really valuable information for students, obviously, who are arriving and then wanting to go forward.

John Bechtol:

Right, because on top of the benefits piece, there are all the normal challenges a new student faces on campus. Where do I live? Where are all my classes? Where's the best place to buy textbooks? All those type of things.

Frederica Freyberg:

So in addition to the benefit information and the kind of long-range planning, what other specific services can they expect to see there?

John Bechtol:

Well, for instance, guard and reserve members that have to miss extended periods of class due to either training or being called up, whether they're going to attend like some specific skill training or go fill sandbags on the Mississippi, I work that piece as an intermediary between them and their faculty members, and help them work out a plan so they can continue their studies. And if they do find that they're going to miss so much class that they have to withdraw, then I help facilitate that, too. So again it's not a burden to the student the fact that they're serving their country in the guard or reserve.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, you were instrumental in expanding something called the Yellow Ribbon program at UW-Madison. What is that?

John Bechtol:

The Yellow Ribbon program is part of-- It’s a subcomponent of the federal Post 9/11 GI bill. The Post 9/11 GI bill will pays resident tuition rates for students. For a nonresident student attending UW-Madison, they would have to pay the difference between resident and nonresident tuition out-of-pocket. The Yellow Ribbon program is an agreement between the school and the VA that if the school will remit half that difference, the VA will pay the other half. So here at UW-Madison we would still be collecting about 70% of nonresident tuition from that student paid being by the VA.  And in turn we need to come up with that difference to cover that tuition remittance. So there is a cap on how many we have. We recently raised that cap to 50 undergraduate students, and then we have eight graduate and two law school slots. That's an increase from the past. I would like to see it even more. About 30 states right now have laws that grant resident tuition rates for all veterans, which it really eliminates the need for the Yellow Ribbon program. So Wisconsin, we're making headway, but residency is one of the bigger issues facing, particularly active duty members, that are looking to attend school. Because I may enter the service in one state, live in three different states while I'm on active duty and now I'm ready to leave. I may not get resident tuition in any state. So, you know, the residency is governed by state statute, and you have to live in Wisconsin for 365 days without going to school in order to qualify for residency. The last thing I want to tell a student is you need to move here and then don't take any classes for a year. That's not really what they want to do.

Frederica Freyberg:

Yeah. Very briefly, in keeping with all of that, how is the University of Wisconsin, how does it rank compared to other universities in terms of being veteran-friendly?

John Bechtol:

Well, you know, the term veteran-friendly gets thrown around quite a bit. I think we make an effort to contact incoming student veterans early, to try and cover all these additional things they need to accomplish as students using military benefits before classes ever start. So in that respect I think we're ahead of a lot of schools. Like I said, probably the biggest issue we face is the residency component right now as far as-- You know, and it kills me when I have to recommend to a student, well, if we don't have a Yellow Ribbon slot, you may need to look at going to Ohio State or Michigan or Michigan State. That really hurts me. But the fact is they will have their tuition covered if they attend one of those schools.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. John Bechtol, thanks very much. Thanks for your work.

John Bechtol:

Thank you. 


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