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Opinion | Miami is far from equipped to help veterans with on-campus services, needs to step it up

By Steven Beynon
On February 21, 2014

I'm serving my sixth year in the Army as a Cavalry Scout Sergeant in the Ohio Army National Guard's 2/107th Cavalry, 28th Infantry Division. I deployed with the Ohio Army National Guard's 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan 2011-2012.

Ever since the end of WWII, the military has put tremendous resources into paying back servicemen and women with college education.

Miami University has a poor reputation among the military community in Ohio. My choice of attending Miami was questionable among my peers.

"I really don't recommend Miami. They aren't known to be the best in dealing with military things. You'd be a lot better off at a school like UC or OSU," one Army Officer said to me.

Regardless of whether or not that statement is fair, or even accurate, that perception inevitably trickles down to potential students.

I was disturbed. I questioned my decision to attend Miami. How do you even gauge "military friendliness?"

The bulk of my unit of almost 100 male soldiers is attending school. Most soldiers are attending University of Cincinnati. The rest are sprinkled across other major Ohio schools.

341 military students attend Miami. University of Cincinnati has 1,009. This is a huge increase from 500 in 2008.

"I think our veteran population is low. We need to do better," Bob Rusbosin, Senior Associate Dean of Students on Regional Campus, said.

Unlike most other major schools in Ohio, Miami currently does not have designated veteran offices to assist troops with benefits and education privileges.

Soldiers across several different universities all sang high praises of places like Devry and The Ohio State University for their helpful initiatives and knowledgeable staff.

According to the Department of Defense, Miami is a Yellow Ribbon School. Miami Hamilton is not a part of that program, according to Kristie Gillespie, a 12-year Cashier's Office worker. Rusbosin couldn't confirm that information.

"I cannot speak for Miami Hamilton," Brent Shock Director Office of Student Financial Assistant said.

The Department of Defense has Jody Cosgrove listed as Miami's go-to assistant for veterans. She didn't respond to several interview requests.

"It's terrible we can't help our vets. We're hoping to roll out better ways to help in the future. But that doesn't help now," one Miami University financial aid office worker told me.

No single employee can sit down with a veteran that can properly assist with the three main military tuition programs. It's unlikely anyone is held accountable for issues that may arise.

"When we see a veteran in the middle of the process we communicate between departments. We don't kick students," Shock said.

Despite that, professors have given me anecdotes on veterans being removed from school or not given easy access to someone that can help them.

"I've had a lot of veteran students that had their student status stripped from the school after the government was late on paying," Miami Professor Jane Barnett said. "We just had to have myself and the student keep grade records on paper. It was very difficult and added unneeded stress. How veteran students are treated is pitiful."

Miami's staff isn't trained in handling veteran's financial aid. In a lot of cases, staff isn't even aware of basic military benefits.

"We have never had training on military benefits," Rachel Steck, a 12 year Cashier's employee said.

When I had a personal issue with the federal government not paying my bill on time, I was removed from the university. A major problem I encountered was a spiderweb of staff sending me to people unqualified to assist me.

"I'm not familiar with this [Federal Tuition] service," Timothy Rhoton Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs said.

I'm not asking the entire staff to know the ins and outs of complicated government programs, but they should at least be aware of what exists and have an immediate contact for students.

The military has an initiative to help soldiers get college credits for military education.

Most advisors don't know the program exists and others didn't know how to assist me.

Some of them gave me out of date information.

Not a lot of soldiers know that their training can be transferred to college credit. Academic Advising needs to communicate to troops how this is accomplished. That should be step one whenever a veteran enters an Academic Advising office. One link on their website isn't good enough.

I see a lot of potential for veterans to become lost in the "spiderweb." Not knowing who to talk to and being wrongfully directed in circles to talk to staff who aren't equipped with correct information.

"Our veteran population is just small," Shock said.

It's arguable that's because Miami doesn't market itself to local Army units like other schools and doesn't have resources that meet the standards of the military community.

Miami needs to have a staff that is aware of all the major military education benefits. Staff members on the first line of contact when a problem arises for the student are the Financial Aid and Cashier's Office workers.

It's inexcusable for one of the most expensive public universities in the country to lag behind. This is the same school that received over half a billion dollars in donations. Its lack of commitment to assisting veterans is troubling to both the lower level staff and myself.

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