06 April 2015

Easing the Transition: Veterans’ service organizations and grants

Like many veterans of the War on Terror I had a difficult time once my enlistment was over and I returned home. I received what I have come to hear is the “usual treatment” for service members that decided not to stay in; my chain of command could not have cared less about me and I was essentially shown the door with little to no idea what waited on the other side. All this despite the fact that I had served 2 tours, discharged honorably, and had never been in trouble. This left me feeling lost as I arrived home hoping to attend college and begin a normal life again. We all know how difficult that can be, but I won’t get into that right now. What I want to discuss and provide information on are the many programs and grants that are available to veterans, but for one reason or another are not advertised effectively to veterans. These programs and grants range from education, to counseling, to housing assistance and most are free to eligible veterans. Let us begin with education.

Education: Every service member in this day and age should be aware of their GI Bill benefits so won’t  talk about that. What I do want to discuss are ways to ensure that a service member gets the most out of his/her benefits. That brings us to our first program - Veterans Upward Bound (VUB). This is a pre-college program serving low-income and/or first generation college-bound veterans (if you just got out and have no job you should be fine qualifying as low-income). Although there are only 51 VUB programs in the country, many have online options to reach a greater number of veterans. Essentially what this program does is reintegrate veterans to the classroom mindset and ensure they are ready to enter college and succeed. In this way, veterans can get the most out of their GI Bill by avoiding remedial classes and hopefully not failing classes that would then require them to take them again. You can find more information on the program and participating locations at: http://www.navub.org/.

Another option should you no longer have GI Bill benefits, or they have run out and you wish to continue your education, is Vocational Rehabilitation. Unfortunately this program is only for veterans with service-connected disabilities but it is an option that many veterans do not realize they have. This program pays for schooling for qualified veterans (usually 30% disability) in order to assist them in their transition.

If you are using your education benefits, you are also eligible to participate in a VA work-study program - check to see if your school or local VA/Veteran Organization has something. This is a great way to make some extra money and gain experience while in school.
Finally, when you get to school, find your school’s veterans’ club. If you don’t have one at your school, start one or improve on the one you have. The best resource for veterans is other veterans. This will provide support and advice as you all go through the college experience together.

Housing: Many veterans today are transitioning from service with families. This can make attaining their education and employment goals all the more difficult. Should you find yourself in need of housing assistance, look for local veteran service organizations with the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) grant. This grant allows the organization to help veterans with their housing needs through rent and utilities assistance. This is to ensure housing is not lost and to help begin a new housing arrangement along with other supportive services to keep a roof over your head. 
There are also many programs to help veterans with buying houses beyond the VA loan. Some states offer breaks to veterans looking to buy a house. Check with your local housing agents to find out more. Also, there are programs to help veterans facing foreclosure. Again, these vary so check for local resources. 

Transition Assistance: I know many of us are leery of the VA, but there is a great resource for veterans who are transitioning from service that the VA offers. These are called Vet Centers; they are usually separate from a VA facility and specifically designed to help veterans with mental health issues. You can search online to find your local Vet Center. These also usually have work-study positions (as I mentioned above) so there is another great reason to find them and get connected. 

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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