By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Veterans who have traded military service for university classes met Monday with one of West Virginia’s senators to share their observations on veterans benefits and making the transition to civilian life.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., visited Concord University to speak with veterans who are now attending the institution. In 2011, Military Times EDGE Magazine named Concord the nation’s best four-year college for veterans.
“We’ve brought a group of folks together with a great passion to try and find a way to address the concerns of veterans who come out of the military and want to come to college and be successful there,” Dr. Gregory Aloia, president of Concord University, told guests at the student union.
“Concord is such as special place. It’s one of the best four-year colleges in the country,” Manchin said prior to meeting with the veterans panel. “They go above and beyond the call to integrate our veterans back into regular day life in America. It’s such a challenge that we have. We have more and more veterans returning than we ever have had before, so we’re going to have to have more of the commitments that we have, like Concord, to take care of our veterans.”
One issue veterans asked Manchin about was the need to help veterans learn more about available benefits and services. Many vets leave the military with no knowledge about the services available to them.
“I felt a little rudderless,” veteran Scott Noble told the senator. “If vets leave school, it’s hard to get them back.
Another veteran, Dave Reeves, stated that he would have returned to college much sooner if he had known about the financial benefits he could have applied for. He had suffered a broken back in basic training.
“There really wasn’t that support, per say,” he recalled. He later learned that he could have had about $40,000 to pay for college. Once he finishes his classes at Concord, he hopes to attend West Virginia University and earn a master’s degree in social work so he can counsel veterans.
Veterans on the panel also suggested more computer automation for the Veterans Administration. Manchin said that many veterans are frustrated when VA official have to physically search for and transfer paper files when veterans need services.
“Today basically, we’re hearing from the people who have served on the front lines,” Manchin said. “People who have served in so many different capacities, and I need to know how difficult that road to transition has been back to private life. You’re going to hear some good results, you’re going to hear some challenging results, and from people who are still trying to have positive results. And I think we need to know that from the standpoint of where I am today in Washington.”