Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

UC President Janet Napolitano met with 10 veteran-student representatives from each UC campus on Jan. 31 and announced the formation of a systemwide veterans’ advisory group on Feb. 3. The group seeks to address unique challenges for current and incoming veterans in higher education by increasing communication about financial aid and improving training for staff who deal with veterans’ affairs.

“I anticipate that this advisory group will be instrumental in helping us formulate and improve policies that directly affect our current and future student veterans,” Napolitano said. There are more than 1,300 military veterans and 100 active-duty military personnel currently enrolled as UC students systemwide, according to a press release by the UC Office of the President (UCOP).

Charles Kim, president of UCR’s Association of Veterans and Servicemembers and UCR’s campus representative on the systemwide committee, explained the increasing financial hardships often facing university student veterans.

“When we do get out (of military service), there is financial aid available for us through the GI Bill,” he stated, referring to the federal Post 9/11 GI Bill which covers all in-state tuition and fees for returning veterans who are pursuing higher education for up to 36 months of full-time enrollment. “However, there is a lot of financial aid we don’t know about. Financial aid through the GI Bill may cover your tuition and housing, however, it may not cover your full financial need.”

Currently, there are no further plans by the UC president to create additional financial aid programs for returning veterans. With the exception of the GI Bill, veterans can only apply to the same state and federal financial aid programs available to every other UC student.

Kim also mentioned the disconnect that may result between returning servicemen and incoming students. “It can be daunting,” Kim said. “You’re going to be a little bit older than (others in) the classes that you are in, so the things that are more popular to you may not be for them; music and Internet interests are different from the things you had growing up.” According to a national survey on student veterans, 78.9 percent of student veterans are over the age of 25.

In addition, Kim added that adjusting to school life may be difficult for student veterans. “For (two to three) years you’re living one type of lifestyle outside of academia (and) it may be three to four years since you’ve been out of high school (so) it’s difficult for some student veterans to adjust to a different kind of lifestyle,” he said.

UCR student veterans Nicholas Brown and Zaima Gonzalez felt pleased to hear that Napolitano was taking the initiative to improve the quality of life for student veterans throughout the UC system.

Blason Taon, a former member of the United States Army and current UCR student, said that many service members must juggle academics, gain additional experience through internships and even support a family. “With the presence of this (veterans) board in place, the stress which has already been heavily applied to us during our service can be minimized, and somewhat alleviated,” he said. “The veteran student body has serviced through their actions, we just need a voice to be heard.”