Veteran Students Who Drop Out May Owe Repayment

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran students who attend school on the GI Bill may be facing monetary consequences if they fail to complete classes.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to recoup more than $200 million that was overpaid when veterans dropped classes or failed to complete them, thus becoming ineligible for the tuition and living stipends.

And this information comes as a complete surprise to many of these students.

When a veteran enrolls in school, the government sends money for tuition and fees to the school, and sends housing and living stipends to the veteran. In theory, if the student drops or fails to complete a class, the VA scales back the benefits accordingly, and the student becomes responsible for any overpayments

In 2014, about one in every four GI Bill beneficiaries, or about 225,000 veterans, incurred an overpayment debt, averaging about $570. And in most cases, the veteran students are responsible for repaying the debt. The VA does not require veterans to verify their enrollment each month, causing a “significant time lapse” between when veterans drop courses and when the government learns about the enrollment change and can reassess payments.

VA officials have recouped more than half of the overpayments from fiscal 2014, but another $110 million from previous years is still uncollected, most of it from veterans.

While the VA has taken steps to address processing errors through technology improvements, quality assurance reviews, and training, the VA still needs to find better ways to communicate its policies to individual veterans. If more veterans are made aware of how the system works, chances are they would be more aware of how to avoid the pitfall. And when they do have the issue, the VA should notify them more promptly when an overpayment occurs, and also improve its system for verifying enrollment.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Heritage Foundation Report Questions U.S. Military Strength

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By Debbie Gregory.

The news about the U.S. military strength could be better, according to the Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Military Strength, released on October 28, 2015.

The conservative think tank report revealed that all four branches of the military face severe readiness, capability, or capacity challenges. While the Navy and Air Force were rated as “marginal” due primarily to inadequate modernization and equipment replacement programs, both the Army and Marine Corps earned poor “capacity” scores, with only 64 percent of their manpower needs met.

The declining state of the overall readiness of the forces was a major factor in the poor scorecards.

Despite the fact that the U.S. maintains military superiority on the world stage and is unmatched in its ability to deploy forces across the globe, the country is in a continuing state of decline.

“Threats against American interests are stronger and more numerous than a year ago; key regions are more unstable, and our military capabilities have weakened further over the past year,” Dakota Wood, senior editor of the Index, said Wednesday. “These are very disturbing trends.”

North Korea became the first country to be classified in the Index as a “severe” threat to vital U.S. interests. The nation garnered the rating after boosting its military capability, to include development of a likely nuclear-capable missile able to reach the U.S., and ramping up its hostile behavior—such as the November 2014 cyber attack on Sony and opening fire on South Korea this August during the South’s annual joint military exercises with U.S. forces.

Also considered high threats are Russia, China and terrorism out of Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Terrorist organizations from the Middle East, where groups such as the Islamic State group operate, was surprisingly called an “elevated” threat.

With the continued decline in the Navy’s fleet size, poor readiness assessments and uncertain funding increases, “the Navy’s score could degrade to ‘weak’ in the near future if it does not reverse course,” the report said.

A lone bright spot in the Heritage analysis was the capacity of the Air Force, which received a rating of “very strong.” With about 1,113 fighter aircraft, the force has the air power needed to fight two regional conflicts.

The full text, including charts and graphs is also available free, online, at http://index.heritage.org/military.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Congratulations to TAPS Founder Bonnie Carroll

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By Debbie Gregory.

Working with great non-profits is the best part of what I do. Working with friends who contribute so much to the families of those who serve is the crème de la crème.

I would like to congratulate my very good friend, TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll, who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her longstanding efforts to provide support to the families of our nation’s fallen service members.

On November 24th, Bonnie will join baseball legends Willie Mays and the late Yogi Berra, conductor Itzhak Perlman, lyricist/composer Stephen Sondheim, director Steven Spielberg, singer/songwriter James Taylor, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, and Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski as they receive the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals who have made “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Bonnie, a retired Air Force Reserve major, founded TAPS after her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in Alaska in 1992, and she found few resources for surviving families.

Since 1994, TAPS has offered support to more than 60,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person support groups and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge.

I couldn’t be happier for Bonnie, or more proud!

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

CA DMV Salutes Veterans with Vet Designation

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By Debbie Gregory.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMC) has begun its salute to the state’s Veterans by issuing driver licenses and identification (ID) cards with veteran designations via the word “Veteran” printed on them.

As of November 12, 2015, eligible veterans could join CalVet’s new secretary, Dr. Vito Imbasciani and Paul Sullivan, the Deputy Secretary, in obtaining the new cards with the word “VETERAN” on the front . This Vet designation indicates that they have served in the U.S. Military.

The designation can also play a critical role in enabling access to certain privileges, benefits, or compensation associated with being a veteran, without having to carry and produce a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.

The DMV and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) reminds Veterans that they must first visit a County Veteran Service Office (CVSO) and obtain a Veteran Status Verification Form before contacting a DMV to apply for the Veteran designation. This form is not available at the DMV.

Veterans will be required to pay a one-time $5 designation fee, in addition to any other application fees associated with a renewal, duplicate, or original driver license or ID card.

To apply for your Veteran designation, please follow these three easy steps: get your discharge certificate, visit any CVSO, and then visit any DMV.

STEP 1 – Find your military discharge certificate (DD214). If you need assistance obtaining your military records, contact any County Veteran Service Office (CVSO). To locate a CVSO, visit https://www.calvet.ca.gov/VetServices/Pages/CVSO-Locations.aspx or call 844-737-8838.

STEP 2 – Take your discharge certificate to any County Veteran Service Office (CVSO) to obtain your Veteran Status Verification Form.

STEP 3 – Present your completed and stamped Veteran Status Verification Form and driver license application to a DMV representative at your local DMV field office. (For faster service, make sure to make an appointment to visit a DMV field office at www.dmv.ca.gov or by calling 800-777-0133. ) Pay your $5 designation fee and related application fees.

Remember, Veterans must first visit a CVSO and obtain the Veteran Status Verification Form before setting an appointment at DMV. For answers to frequently asked questions, please visit CalVet’s website.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Science-Technology Learning Effort Lauded

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is helping to turn a local schoolroom into a hyper-learning environment for a rigorous science technology and math curriculum.

The DoD has unveiled a partnership with the Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus in Washington to drive science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning through simulation technology. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall was present to launch the Cardozo FLEX Lab Aviation Classroom Experience, or FLEX-ACE.

FLEX-ACE turned a classroom into a test-and-evaluation lab featuring three dual-pilot flight simulators, an air-traffic-control tower, and nine remotely piloted vehicle stations.

There are presently 18 FLEX-ACE labs worldwide.

Attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony were defense officials, DoD STEM partners, Cardozo administration and staff, and leaders from the District of Columbia government and public schools.

Kendall told the students, “You’ve got a great opportunity here to take advantage of the equipment, the interaction you’ll have with others, the connection to other laboratories — the variety of things you can do here to open up things for yourselves.”

The system lets students role-play in real-world missions that take place at test ranges across the country and in local air space. Each mission requires critical thinking in applying core math and science competencies ranging from time-speed-distance calculations to advanced physics, according to TEQGames, the originator of the labs.

The focus on science-technology learning is part of the mission: to attract, inspire and develop exceptional STEM talent across the education continuum to enrich current and future service members and the DoD workforce to meet defense technological challenges.

In his remarks to the students, Kendall recalled that he went through school during the Space Age, when the nation was working to put people on the moon.

“Think about that era, and today there are some interesting parallels,” he said. “Many areas of technology are opening up now too in aerospace and space.”

“Make the choice to dig into this and learn as much as you can,” Kendall told the students. “It will serve you enormously well.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

How Are Veterans Assimilating in the Civilian Workplace?

vetsintheworkplace

By Debbie Gregory.

Although many service members have successfully navigated deployment stressors, readjustment to civilian life, and especially civilian employment, can be challenging for former military personnel. The Center for Talent Innovation, a non-profit “think tank,” has released the results of a new study on veterans assimilating in the civilian workplace.

According to “Mission Critical: Unlocking the Value of Veterans in the Workforce,” nearly a third of U.S. veterans in civilian jobs hide their war injuries from employers. Veterans may have mental health concerns, physical disabilities, or other personal issues that can impact their productivity or performance at work. Additionally, many of them downplay their military service in order to get along with co-workers.

About 28 percent said they lasted six months or less in their first job and another 16.3 percent remained only 7 to 12 months. Why are veterans tuning out and stalling out when it comes to veterans assimilating in the civilian workplace? Almost two-thirds of CTI survey respondents said they felt a greater sense of meaning and purpose in the military than they did in their current job. Many of them say that they feel invisible to their senior leaders, who can’t see their full potential.

“On paper, they are very marketable and most employers jump at the chance to hire them,” said John Muckelbauer, staff counsel for Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group with 1.7 million members around the world. “But once they’re in the door, some find it more difficult to properly assimilate.”

“It’s quite a culture shock to move from the military to the civilian world,” said Linda Huber, chief financial officer of Moody’s Corp, who rose to captain while in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1984. “Veterans can be very careful about saying too much about their status.”

Employers can ease the transition for veterans assimilating in the civilian workplace by creating a workplace culture that helps people feel comfortable discussing the challenges they face in the workplace.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

In-state Tuition for Veterans and Their Families

instate tuition1

By Debbie Gregory.

In-state tuition rates to public colleges and universities will now be available to all recent U.S. military veterans and their families throughout the country.

In honor of Veterans Day, the White House made the announcement, reiterating President Obama’s “steadfast commitment” to our military members and veterans.

The president is also calling on Congress to move forward on three pieces of legislation to help improve veterans’ education.

According to Cecilia Muñoz, the Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, “These pieces of legislation will really ensure that veterans have the opportunities and assistance to … realize the American dream.”

The first bill would heighten standards for schools receiving G.I. Bill funds. The second bill is aimed at protecting G.I. Bill benefits for veterans whose schools close mid-term. The third bill would increase regulation of for-profit colleges, many of which target veterans.

“What we think this does is ramp up the accountability” of those schools, Munoz said, adding that it ensures “we are requiring a high-quality education for veterans that have served us well.”

Additionally, the VA has revamped the GI Bill Comparison Tool, another way to help Veterans obtain and use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The GI Bill® Comparison Tool allows Veterans to enter their military status, the GI Bill benefit that they are thinking of using, their Cumulative Post 9-11 Active Duty Service , and the name of the school that they wish to research. The tool then provides a list of the schools that match. By clicking on the school’s name, the user can then read the data that the tool provides, including the amount of tuition and fees, the amount of Monthly Allowance for Housing (MAH) the student will receive, and the amount of book stipend.

The GI Bill Comparison will let the student know if their potential college, university or vocational school meets the required guidelines to receive federal funding, and whether it is a Yellow Ribbon School, how many GI Bill students there are. It also specifies whether there is a student veteran group, a VetSuccess on campus, etc.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Setting Up Veteran Student and Military Student Success

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By Debbie Gregory.

All too often, veteran students and military students (active duty and reservists) find themselves struggling to succeed in higher education. For some, the pitfalls might be financial, while for others, it might be the challenges of dealing with physical or psychological injuries.

Returning to higher education for veteran and military students can cause added stress to an already stressful transition for those who have been away from academics for many years.

Also, the manner in which GI Bill benefits are processed, arriving well after the semester has started, can be a huge stumbling block.

One huge advantage is having a well-informed veterans’ resource center on campus.

Many veterans are entering higher education after a prolonged break from school. There are programs that can assist in preparing them.

The Wounded Warrior Project’s TRACK program is the first education center in the nation designed specifically for wounded service members. As part of the cohort model, Wounded Warrior Project Alumni join other wounded service members who have shared similar experiences. They enter and complete the program as a team. Through this 12-month program, wounded service men and women take part in a whole-life approach to education, earn college credits that can be applied toward a degree, and gain valuable practical experience through an externship.

The Warrior-Scholar Project is an academic boot camp aimed at veterans who plan on attending or transferring to a 4-year college. Funded by foundations and private donors, the one and two-week programs are immersive and demanding. Veterans run the sessions, which are taught by university professors and graduate students. The curriculum is designed to help participants prepare to tackle the reading lists of rigorous college courses.

Veterans Upward Bound is a federal program run by the U.S. Department of Education that helps veterans prepare to be college students.

Veterans who come to college do so with a certain level of intensity, mission focus, discipline and structure from military life that is different from the mindset of traditional students. Anything that can be done to set these veteran students and military students up for success benefits us all.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Penn Around is an App for That

ronnierussell

By Debbie Gregory.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That is certainly true in regards to Army Sgt. 1st Class Ronnie Russell. When Russell, a mortar platoon sergeant with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment was stationed in South Korea some 15 years ago, he struggled to find his way around.

When a return trip 14 years later showed no improvement in navigation help, Russell sought his own solution..

The self-taught app developer came up with Penn Around, a free mobile app with all the resources a soldier assigned to South Korea might need.

Starting small with just the bus schedules of all the camps, Penn Around now contains a list of U.S. Forces-Korea holidays; movie times for the on-post theater; sexual assault and suicide prevention assistance and resources; events scheduled by Morale, Welfare and Recreation as well as Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers; and Google Translate.

Russell did his due diligence, making sure he went through all the right channels, securing permission from all the right people at every step of the way — a lot of work for a noncommissioned officer who simply wanted to help his soldiers learn how to traverse the Korean Peninsula.

Russell, who is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, has developed an app called Texas Corral. This app pulls together information from 10 police departments in central Texas, giving users up-to-date news, alerts and information. It also enables users to pay their tolls, fines or fees.

Three more of Russell’s apps are pending final approval before they’re released: Mil Aloha, which was built for troops serving in Hawaii; Mil Euro for troops in Europe; and Mil Japan, for those serving in Japan.

Russell said that while he doesn’t make money on the apps,he does get the satisfaction of knowing he may have helped a soldier answer the same questions he once had.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Newly Improved Transition Assistance Program Well Received

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides transition assistance to promote, advance and instill a culture of education and/or employment readiness to Service members.

In the latest survey results from graduates, an overwhelming majority of former service members expressed that they felt that the newly redesigned TAP curriculum well prepared them to re-enter the civilian workforce. The redesigned program encompasses the requirements of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

Under the leadership of Susan Kelly, the director of the Transition to Veterans Program, the program was significantly expanded two years ago.

Expanded to a week-long, mandatory curriculum now offered in full at 206 installations, TAP provides information, tools, and training to ensure Service members and their spouses are prepared for the next step in civilian life, whether pursuing additional education, finding a job in the public or private sector, or starting their own business. This redesigned TAP is the result of an inter-agency collaboration to offer separating Service members and their spouses better, more easily accessible resources and information to make their transitions more successful.

Kelly emphasized the program’s four core components:

  • Adopt career readiness standards (CRS) which measure a service member’s preparedness to depart from active duty;
  • Develop Transition GPS, a curriculum that builds the skills needed by service members to meet the CRS;
  • A capstone event, during which commanders verify their members have met career readiness standards or, if not, ensure that they receive additional training or a warm handover; and
  • Implementation to the military life-cycle transition model, which aligns transition activities with touch-points across the military career.

Kelly said that according to the most recent participant assessment data, more than 80 percent of the participants said they “gained valuable information and skills to plan their transition, that the training enhanced their confidence in their transition, they intended to use what they learned in the classes, and that they knew how to access appropriate resources post separation.”

In the last two years, both public and private organizations recognized that service members “present an incredible pool of talent and they seek increased opportunities to harness that talent,” Kelly said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.