Western Washington University (WWU) has been supporting veterans for years, but recently that support has grown with the Veteran Services Office (VSO). What started as one person processing VA benefits part time out of the Registrar’s Office is now a designated Veteran Service Office with two dedicated full time staff and various VA work study students. With over 400 students using VSO services last year, it is clear that the number of WWU students connected to the military is increasing. Since 2013, the veteran student population has grown by 54%. This means services need to grow and become more comprehensive.
The VSO offers a small lounge area with coffee and snacks and weekly Drop Zone meals for students looking to come in and meet with other military-connected students. Staff in the office are available for academic advising, disability resource accommodations, and some general case management for students who are working to adjust to higher education after the military. Staff members often act as a go between for the university and the VA.
According to Assistant Director of Veteran Services Ann Beck, “We know coming to school can be challenging on so many levels, if you are also transitioning off active duty as either a veteran or family member, there are different sets of challenges that come your way. We want to make sure that we cut down on as many of those challenges as we can. We want your money to process quickly, we want you picking classes that will be worthwhile and engaging, and we want you to get linked with supports to get you through, whether it’s other students or possible medical needs. We try to be a one stop shop for those who have that military connection and are also Western students.”
Beginning fall 2016, WWU also began offering their Veteran Completion Tuition Waiver, the first of its kind in the state. Many schools offer a 50% tuition waiver for eligible veterans but with the Post 9/11 GI Bill covering all of their tuition and fees, many veterans were opting not to use it. “Since that waiver wasn’t getting use we wanted to re-vamp it a bit, so we now offer 100% tuition and fees waived for our veterans that exhaust their Post 9/11 GI Bill while attending Western,” said Beck. Since the waiver began in the fall of 2016, 14 veteran students have been able to access it, bringing them closer to graduating without incurring additional debt to do it.
While the Completion Waiver has been really successful there is still more to be done. Over the past six months the VSO has been working to raise money for an endowed Veteran Education Scholarship. To date $20,000 has been donated for the scholarship and now the university is actively working to raise the final $5,000 to reach endowed status for the scholarship. This scholarship would be the first endowed scholarship at Western specifically for veteran students.
Western’s veteran community continues to grow and evolve and will be moving next year into a new designated Veteran Services Office being built specifically for the VSO within Wilson Library. “It is space that has been designed specifically for our students, and not just something we inherited, it provides the veteran community with even more of a sense of belonging in the campus community,” said Beck.
The veteran community on campus is always looking for support throughout the larger community. If you are interested in donating to the Veterans Education Scholarship
fund, you can do so here: https://wp.wwu.edu/veteranservices/donate/ Please contact Ann.Beck@wwu.edu with any questions.