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Being Military Friendly

Reflections on the Value of Being Military Friendly

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

What does the term “military friendly” even mean? It wasn’t really a thing in the 80s. Not in the 90s, either. I seem to recall that it all started 10 or 15 years ago, this effort by organizations to be known as military-friendly to its customers. It’s kind of an ambiguous term, many times without much concrete detail…so it begs the question: what value does that term hold for those of us from the military community?

When we talk about a company or organization being military- or Veteran-friendly, it always seems like they fall into one of three groups: stores, schools, or employers. And while some of us get to feel the love from one of those groups just about every time we get out to run some errands, with the others we may not give it much thought if we aren’t a college student or working for some national, top-notch workforce. But let’s take a deeper dive into each of these groups, if only for a moment…

The stores. Being labeled as military-friendly in the retail environment almost always means that the store (brick and mortar or online) offers some kind of military discount. That discount usually falls in the neighborhood of 10 percent off, but there are certainly exceptions and caveats to that. Some stores offer those discounts all year long, some only on certain days of the week (Tuesdays seem to be the popular choice), and still others offer up their discounts only on major holidays, like Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Some offer their discounts only to those still actively serving, and others make their offer to both active and retired members of the US Armed Forces.

Examples abound of local, regional, and national companies that give 15-20% off, but then again, some cap it at 5%. Some companies offer up a ‘free shipping’ discount, and there’s even a cellular service provider (or two) that have a special rate plan for military folks.

Being eligible for the discount depends on the company, and sometimes it feels like we have to jump through many hoops to qualify. You may only have to show a copy of your military ID or DD-214, but some will require eligibility verification through platforms like ID.me, a service that simplifies how individuals securely prove and share their identity online (but even some brick and mortar stores require registration with them, too).

Long story short – whether you find yourself in your neighborhood big box store on a weekly basis or you only take advantage of 10% off a cup of coffee every now and then, you can save a tidy sum of money over the course of a year by ‘redeeming’ your military discount. And if you aren’t sure whether a place at which you’re doing business offers one, it doesn’t hurt to ask…some businesses don’t advertise the discount (I’m just not sure why they wouldn’t).

The schools. By that, I mean colleges and universities that offer certificate- and degree-producing programs, and there are variable criteria for them earning the military-friendly tag. After so many of us went back to college upon earning our GI Bill benefits in the 2000s and 2010s, and especially after the rash of school failures that left many student Veterans high and dry – there’s been a very concerted effort to set, measure, and publish standards for all of us to use in our “where should we study” decision making process.

Military Friendly ® is a group that does just that, by evaluating over 8,000 schools on benchmarks that measure an institution’s commitment to its student Veteran population in graduation rate, retention rate, loan default rate, and job placement rate. Check out their latest list of military-friendly schools here.

The workforce. This is a really subjective one, because how we feel about our places of work typically depend on much more than whether they meet a few military-related criteria. Perhaps the most well-known list of these employers also comes from Military Friendly ®. Just as they did for colleges and universities, the group organizes a yearly list of Military Friendly Companies and Military Spouse Friendly Employers.

If you work for a company that hasn’t “made the list,” what does that mean? Well, I doubt many of you will give notice and start the job search all over again, but it may make you look critically at how you can improve upon your employer’s culture. Most of the people who might find value in a list of military-friendly companies, though, are undoubtedly job-seekers, and I know more than a few over the years who have actively sought work with a verified, certified  military- and Veteran-friendly employer.

 

National lists like those don’t account for many of the smaller, more local companies; if you’d still like to size up your own workplace, here are some things you might consider: Has the company taken on a specific hiring initiative? Do they reach out to separating Service members  and Veterans Service Organizations, looking for job-seekers? Do they have an onboarding program specifically for those from the military community? Do they have Veterans groups in-house already? Do they welcome members of the National Guard and Reserve to their workforce, and keep their families close when deployments crop up? These ‘criteria’ aren’t from any official list, but they’re a good start…

 

At the end of the day, whether or not you find any substantive benefit from an organization claiming to be military-friendly, know that there’s still a ‘sea of goodwill’ out there. If it’s only to get a free meal on a national holiday, or 10% off my home improvement supplies, or to try and get on with an employer that really understands the military community…I appreciate the gesture, and I imagine most of you do, too.

 

What Makes a School Truly Veteran Friendly?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans who have transitioned out of the military do so with rich veteran education benefits, especially those who have the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. In addition to tuition, the benefit covers housing, books and supplies. It’s no wonder that schools want to recruit these potential students.

But because veterans can only spend these veteran education benefits once, finding the right institution to help guarantee success is of great importance. This is achieved by finding an institution that fosters a culture which is supportive, appreciative, respectful, embracing, and inclusive of the veterans it educates. Schools that genuinely value diversity will make an active, sustained effort to attract veterans, because they recognize the value of their presence in the classroom.

Being veteran friendly also means being responsive to the unique needs of their student-veteran population.

Here are some characteristics a veteran education program should provide:

  • A veterans lounge as a designated space for the veterans to gather, study, and socialize
  • Department of Veterans Affairs resources directly on campus
  • A chapter of Student Veterans of America
  • Fully covered tuition through the G.I. Bill, and a commitment to meet any shortfalls through institutional aid
  • Exemption from standard residential housing policies since veterans are older and may have families
  • Credit for military service
  • A quality education

Military bases maintain an education office, and conduct transition assistance workshops for servicemen and women preparing to reenter civilian life.

Additional resources include:

  • The Warrior Scholar Program empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge that enables a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom. The program works to maximize their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program at a top-tier school.
  • Service to School, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides free application counseling to military veterans. Their goal is to help veterans win admission to the best universities possible and to help them maximize their education benefits.
  • The Posse Foundation, which forms groups of 10 veterans who all are admitted to the same college at once, and form a ready-made squad of peers who can support each other throughout their college experience and succeed as a team.

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.

 

Veteran’s Campaign to Make Stanford More Veteran Friendly

stanford university

By Debbie Gregory.

Adam Behrendt is on a mission. The former U.S. Navy corpsman who enrolled as a transfer student at Stanford University is trying to persuade the university to change some of their policies to make the school more veteran friendly.

Behrendt enlisted in the Navy in 2007, after several years at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was medically retired from the Navy in March 2015. He applied to Stanford, with the game plan of attending medical school.

Unfortunately, the way Stanford applied the education benefits available through Behrendt’s Post 9/11 GI Bill did not make it financially feasible for his wife to give up her job in Wisconsin and move to California.

Fortunately for Behrendt, he was able to get assistance from Service to School, an organization that helps military veterans apply to and succeed in college. Through his relationship with the non-profit, Behrendt began mentoring other veterans to help them navigate Stanford’s financial aid policies.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) provides both tuition assistance and a housing and living allowance to veterans in order for them to pursue postsecondary education.

Stanford charged roughly $72,000 for an undergraduate — $47,000 in tuition, $18,000 in room and board, and about $7,000 for supplies and fees.

Under VA policy at the time, the typical undergraduate veteran at Stanford would be eligible for more than $50,000 — roughly $25,000 in tuition and fees support and another $28,000 toward housing and living expenses.

For veterans who also earned need-based funds from Stanford, the university would apply the entire $53,000 from the VA, and reduce its own financial contributions as a result. Stanford was counting the housing allowance as a resource that the student veteran was bringing to the table in calculating financial aid.

Behrend thought it was not fair for the university to take $28,000 in VA funds to cover $18,000 in room and board.

Behrendt had become an accidental advocate, and because of his efforts,  Stanford’s general counsel noted in a letter to Behrendt that the university would no longer take more than the amount of the housing costs out of the VA’s living allowance, and that the university would not use an outside donor’s funds to meet a federal requirement that institutions match VA contributions under the Yellow Ribbon program.

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.