As a new school year begins, a Department of Veterans Affairs official announced Aug. 29 that VA will nearly triple the number of colleges and universities it partners with to offer on-campus vocational and rehabilitative VA counseling through its “VetSuccess on Campus” program.
Curt Coy, VA’s deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity, told reporters during a conference call that the program, which began in 2009, will expand from its existing 32 campuses to 94. Its primary goal is to provide on-campus counseling and referral services to student veterans as they transition to civilian life, Coy said.
“We put an experienced vocational rehabilitation counselor, full-time, on a college campus to help not just wounded warriors or disabled veterans, bur for all veterans on the campus,” he explained.
Coy said the department looks for schools with veteran and beneficiary enrollment of at least 800 to 1,200 and strives to partner bigger colleges or universities with “feeder schools” such as community colleges, so they can share counseling resources. Officials also seek to ensure the campus is close to a VA regional center or medical facility.
Those regional VA facilities are where on-campus counselors come from, Coy noted, because the department assigns its most experienced people for on-campus work and then backfills their previous positions.
“The school has to ask or volunteer to host a … counselor,” he said. “They provide office space, access to their computers and a telephone.” The VA pays the counselor’s salary, he added.
Some 90 percent of a counselor’s workload may involve answering questions about educational benefits, Coy said, but he noted the program, which offers students veterans the chance for face-to-face conversation with a VA expert, can help to smooth life for former service members in other ways as well.
Every veteran is different in some small way, he said, but VA counselors “can, in many cases, break through any concerns or questions they may have, and help them connect with their benefits.”
He offered as example a student veteran using the Post-9/11 GI Bill who has not yet begun receiving a housing allowance or other benefits.
“[The counselor] can intercede directly on behalf of that veteran, and it works out very, very well,” Coy said. He added that the chance to consult an experienced VA vocational and rehabilitation counselor also offers student veterans a chance to learn about overall benefits they may be entitled to.
“The most important thing is to provide those student veterans with the tools they need to be successful in their academic environment … [and] meaningful employment as they move on,” Coy said.