Vets tell senator’s staff about benefits bottlenecks

Marietta Times

Though they're entitled to receive compensation and benefits for their service to the country, many area veterans told representatives of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown Monday that while they may get those benefits, they never know when.

About 15 area veterans met with Doug Babcock, senior legislative assistant for veterans affairs for Brown, D-Ohio, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5108 in Marietta to discuss current issues facing veterans.

Delays in receiving services was the primary concern, as everything from paying for college to receiving approval for medical care can take weeks or months, they said.

Through the Montgomery GI Bill, those who serve in the military are entitled to compensation to pay for a college education. But many veterans can end up starting school a semester, or even year, later than they wanted, said officials with Washington State Community College in Marietta.

"They show up a month before classes and we get them into our system, which takes one or two days, and they still don't have the funding to pay for their college," said Greg Mitchell, director of career services at Washington State, who also served in the Air Force.

Mitchell said there are more than 4,700 veterans ages 17 to 44 in the geographic area Washington State serves, according to a U.S. military 2007 study.

On a typical military application, it averages six to eight weeks for approval of GI Bill funding, said Mike Whitnable, registrar at Washington State.

"A lot of times, the veterans get home from Iraq or Afghanistan, they're not planning six months ahead when they're going to go to college," Whitnable said.

A recent initiative to help veterans with the job market, entitled Hire Heroes and co-sponsored by Brown, was passed in November 2011.

The legislation is designed to lower the rate of unemployment among veterans by expanding education with up to one year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits as well as improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

To be eligible for Hire Heroes, military service personnel must be between 35 and 60 years of age, unemployed, and not eligible for other veterans benefits, Whitnable said.

Like the GI Bill, however, there can be delays in approval, which Babcock said comes from a state and national level.

"None of your veterans should have that problem," Babcock said. "That's a systematic problem we need to fix."

While much of the conversation around the state surrounds older veterans, Niles Walters, Washington County veterans service officer, said younger veterans returning f to the U.S. also need help.

Many personnel returning from active duty in the Middle East struggle with running red lights, as they're used to traveling in convoys to avoid fire, he explained.

"There's a whole hell of a lot of young vets walking around in Washington County and the state of Ohio and they need help," Walters said.

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