MAY 6, 2013


A. Student Veteran Association.

Chair Hilley reported that she had attended an all-day program for student veterans last fall, where she had been impressed with the enthusiastic leadership of Mr. Ben Armstrong, director of Student Veteran Services (SVS). As a result, she had invited him to give a brief overview of his organization’s mission and services.

Director Armstrong greeted everyone and thanked Dr. Soncia Reagins-Lilly, dean of students, and Dr. Gage Payne, vice president for student affairs, for their support of him and his work. His presentation about the purpose of the organization, the needs of student veterans, and the services that are provided for veterans was aided by a series of PowerPoint slides, which are attached in Appendix A. After reporting that the Student Veteran Association created the SVS on Veteran’s Day on November 10, 2011, Mr. Armstrong noted that the GI Bill had changed and was now transferable to children of military veterans. He also indicated that usage of educational benefits by veterans and their family members had increased by over 700 percent since 2008. He said this increase was partially due to family members taking advantage of the benefits, veterans taking time out to get an education to increase their chances for advancement, and the Armed Forces withdrawal from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Director Armstrong explained that his office’s primary mission was to assist student veterans in their efforts to successfully integrate into UT Austin by helping them with information and issues related to making academic progress, receiving benefits, and accessing other resources, such as certain veteran-oriented programs and counseling services. He indicated that student veterans were primarily white and Hispanic males between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. Many of them have transferred to UT Austin, after previously attending on average of 2.4 other institutions where they earned on average 59.4 credit hours toward undergraduate degrees, often in subject areas within natural sciences. He said he had interfaced with approximately 100 student veterans, soon after their admission to the University.

He expressed appreciation for his reciprocal relationships with the Office of the Registrar, the Office of Admissions, and Student Accounts Receivable in helping student veterans navigate the UT Austin system. He discussed various ways in which veterans receive financial assistance on campus through state and federal benefit programs, such as the Hazelwood tuition exemption. He also addressed a number of special areas that pose challenges to the student veterans’ academic progress, including stop-outs, work-life balance, and physical and emotional health problems. One of the common difficulties experienced by student veterans involved what Mr. Armstrong called “the customer service problem” because of their lack of understanding of higher education and civilian life, and how these are different from their experiences within the military environment. He said the Veterans Administration (VA) provides mental health services to these students. In addition, he said he had seven student veterans employed through the VA work-study program to assist him with helping student veterans enrolled here at UT.

Director Armstrong briefly highlighted a number of different programs and events that are sponsored and/or publicized by his organization on campus. These include the Student Veteran Center, annual Veteran Welcome Banquet, Veteran Sponsorship Program, Veteran Recognition Month in November, Doughnuts and Disability Claims monthly meetings, and Veteran-Informed Forty Acres workshops. He noted that there are also approximately 660 veterans employed here at UT Austin, and he is currently thinking about creative ways to coordinate activities between this group of employees and the student veterans.

When Professor Ronn inquired about the meaning of “the customer service problem,” Director Armstrong said the term was a metaphor that alludes to the difficult transition that can occur as veterans leave the structured environment they are used to in military service. This transition from a somewhat sheltered world where one knows “where to go for everything” regarding military occupational expertise and consumer goods to the civilian marketplace where “there are 19,000 people who do oil changes” causes confusion and trust issues for many veterans after they are discharged from military service. His office, he explained, provides a place that serves as a “conduit box of connections” that offers immediate information regarding the academic environment here at UT Austin, including where student veterans need to go, who to see, and what information they need in order to make informed decisions regarding their education and their academic progress.

When Dr. Charlotte Herzele (nutritional sciences) asked for information regarding the Hazelwood tuition exemption program, Director Armstrong explained that it is a state benefit for Texas student veterans enrolled in Texas public institutions. He said an eligible student veteran or his or her dependent could take 150 credit hours under this program without having to pay tuition. He further explained that the institution where the eligible student is enrolled does not receive funding from the state but still provides the educational service on a tuition-free basis.

Professor Ronn asked if there was a program for veteran faculty members to assist in helping the veteran students enrolled here at UT Austin. Director Armstrong said he had received the ability from Human Resources to email all faculty and staff members that are veterans. However, since he was currently dealing with approximately 2,000 veterans and dependents enrolled with benefits, he had not yet reached out to the group of veteran employees. He said President Powers’ email to employees regarding the American Corporate Partners (ACP) provided a great opportunity for those who were interested in such service, and he thought about eighty individuals had signed up for the program thus far. He added that faculty members wanting to mentor student veterans in their particular areas of expertise could do so via the ACP program. Director Armstrong invited any one interested in the program to contact him for further information, and thanked the Council for the opportunity to provide information about SVS. Chair Hilley encouraged interested faculty members to visit the SVS website or to get in touch with Director Armstrong.

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