New bill will likely increase number of student veterans on campus

A revamped GI Bill designed to help veterans afford public and private schools alike is being used by 40 incoming student veterans this semester, a university official said.

Stephanie Hules, a veteran affairs officer, said a total of 60 student veterans are currently using the bill at the university.

The university’s veteran student population could continue to increase thanks to the new post-Sept. 11 GI Bill, which provides free tuition to veterans who served on active duty for at least 36 months since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the GI Bill Web site.

The application process started May 1 and the bill’s benefits, which include a housing allowance and book stipend, went into effect Aug. 1, Hules said. The percentage of benefits received depends on the amount of time veterans served since Sept. 11, she said.

Spring 2010 will also bring a large increase of veteran students, Hules said. Twenty-five to 30 prospective veteran students have already indicated they want to apply for the spring semester, she said.

Chris Simcho, a senior strategic communications major and Marine veteran, said the old GI Bill only gave veterans about $36,000 total. He said prior to the new bill, there was almost no way for many veterans to attend TCU because of cost. He said he expects the university to have an influx of veteran students as a result of the GI Bill’s changes.

“This is a giant jump in benefits as far as getting veterans back into school,” Simcho said.

Hules said the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill covers tuition up to the highest-cost public higher education institution in the state.

According to the annual tuition chart on the GI Bill Web site, the highest tuition rate in Texas for the 2009 to 2010 school year is $1471 per credit hour.

Hules said the 2009 to 2010 calculations in tuition costs allow veterans in Texas to attend private universities like TCU, which charges $980 per credit hour, when enrolled in less than nine hours. Veterans who enroll as full-time students will receive coverage under the GI Bill because the university’s flat-rate tuition of $14,125 per semester falls below the allowed amount in Texas, she said.

Forrest Lane, facilitator of the veterans’ committee, said with the potential for more veterans on campus, the committee is evaluating the services the university can offer them.

“I think that the new GI Bill was a very good opportunity for us to focus on what we currently offer veterans and make sure that we’re offering those programs and services that they need,” Lane said.

He said the committee tries to make potential veteran students aware of the health and counseling services on campus.

Simcho, who said he attended a meeting in the past, agrees that the committee needs to provide services to help veterans adjust.

“I think the average veteran will be coming back into college around 24 or 25 years old,” Simcho said. “Being surrounded by so many people that you don’t really relate to, I think, is kind of overwhelming.”

Lane said the committee is trying to find the best way to market the services the university can offer veterans. There have been suggestions about creating a veteran’s Web site, but the committee is still working on a way to get information to veterans, he said.

“I think that it’s also set up a process for a systematic approach to constantly reviewing those needs,” he said, adding that evaluating veterans’ needs is an ongoing process.

Lane said the committee’s next meeting has not been scheduled.