Veterans Resource Center debunks education benefit misconceptions

“We still have a lot of work to do, and even with what we do here, it’s never been enough.”
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 8:37 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - There are several misconceptions surrounding military enlistment and having access to money to pay for college. A veteran’s group in East Alabama is debunking the myths for veterans and their families, all while providing money to help with college expenses.

The Auburn Veteran’s Resource Center, experts on the subject matter, told News Leader 9, yes, money for college is available to veterans, there are certain stipulations to be met first. According to the director of the group, Puck Esposito, several misconceptions surround military service and educational benefits.

“The misconception being, everything is covered, and that’s not true.”, said Esposito. “We discovered that one of our student veterans was sleeping here for a few hours a day because it’s all that he could get. He was going to class all day and then working in a local restaurant at night between midnight and zero six just to make money to make sure his family was covered.

Stories like that is why they raise funds to help student veterans with cost not covered by benefits, said Esposito. One of those fundraisers is a scholarship gala every year. According to program and service specialist, Curtis Pipen, to get the money, all the students have to do is answer a list of questions.

“We get a team together, a committee and we look at all their responses and we select X amount of, depending how much money we raised that year, X amount of students to receive those scholarships,” said Pipen. “The purpose of this is to help them be successful in whatever educational goals they have. We ask what are some struggles they are experiencing. Kind of gauging what are they going to use this money for. At the end of the day, we want it to contribute to their educational journey. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re looking for.”

The gala will be next Thursday, November 10th. According to Pipen, this year they are planning to hand out $7,000 of scholarship money.

Kristen Carlsson, a coordinator in the veteran’s resource Center explained what benefits are available on a federal and state level.

So there are two different types of benefits.

There are federal benefits that are straight from big VA and then there are state benefits that come from Alabama State Veterans Department.

“So for our state, we have A Gap, our National Guard educational assistance program that covers up to $5,687 a semester. It is payer’s last resort and can only pay for tuition and fees. So they get we you know, we build their tuition all that and then we have to subtract Pell Grant grant funds, scholarships, all that stuff. We can build that for them.” said Carlsson. “There’s also the Alabama G.I. dependent scholarship. These are for dependents of veterans. Veterans have to have at least a 40% disability rating, and they had to be residents within Alabama. That pays up to about $240 a credit hour. Also as a payer of last resort benefit for dependents and the dependents also get about $1,000 a semester to go toward books. We have chapter 1606 Are the Montgomery GI Bill. It pays like a monthly housing stipend from about $300 to $1000 a month. It kind of depends on their contract they make when they’re going to service. We have chapter 35, the dependents Educational Assistance Program, that’s also just a monthly housing stipend.”

They all say, although there are a lot of resources out there, more could be done.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and even with what we do here, it’s never been enough.”

The office encourages people considering enlisting in the military to ask recruiters hard questions like how much time you have to serve to be eligible for some of the benefits entitled to you. They say you can give them a call for guidance.

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