The challenges that accompany military life affect more than just the service member. Military families often face frequent moves and long separations, which can be physically and emotionally taxing. Educational institutions provide resources to help veterans adjust to life outside the military, but where can military spouses and dependents turn to find support? We spoke with David Ausman, Director of the Center for Veterans and Military Families at Robert Morris University to find out how veteran families can benefit from campus programs.
As a Marine Corps veteran, Ausman can empathize with the challenges faced by students transitioning from military life to academia.
“I’ve experienced the same problems that students are facing now. They often don’t fit in with typical undergrads. They also don’t necessarily fit in with other adults students. They fall somewhere in the middle. Unless your university has a robust Veterans Center, you can very easily feel outcast, which in turn can lead to problems. I’m in the position now to ensure no other student goes through what I went through,” said Ausman.
Gather information before you enroll
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers education and training benefits to veterans, service members, and eligible family members. Ausman recommends military family members begin seeking support by asking university staff questions.
“I highly recommend students start by doing their research and get in touch with the VA to clarify what their benefits entail. Find out if the university you’re interested in is rated as ‘military-friendly.’ Ask about the services offered on the campus. Contact the school’s Veterans Center and ask if military family members receive the same access to the center and programming as the veteran students.”
Returning to school as a spouse of a veteran could mean children are at home. If you need a quiet place to study away from the kids, try utilizing campus resources like computer labs and childcare centers.
“It may seem simple, but at our Center, we see about 100 ‘military-family’ students. A lot of our students are commuters. Half of them are married, and one third of them have children and jobs. We’re here to support them holistically, even if they just need to stop in and get a cup of coffee between classes. We provide students with dedicated study areas and computer labs with free printing. Students can print off their homework before class, stop back after to decompress, and also finish their homework before returning home.”
Why support military families?
“It’s hard to focus on academics if your spouse is unemployed.”
If you’re a veteran, ask your campus Veterans Center if family members can take advantage of career preparation training opportunities. The entire family can benefit by your spouse attending a resume-building workshop or participating in a mock job interview. Need guidance in another area? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“If there is something standing in the way of a student’s academic success, we want to help address it. Whether it’s health related, a financial concern or an academic issue we want students to be successful long-term by ensuring they are progressing appropriately. Part of receiving a military-friendly rating involves monitoring career placement through the transition from student to working professional.”
“When it comes to finding information regarding benefits, you’ll either need to start with the Department of Defense or the Department of Veteran Affairs. Educational institutions can’t determine the level or type of benefits you qualify for, which is a common misconception. Roughly 70% of our students are utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill. At RMU, we inform students of other programs that can help bridge the gap to cover the sticker price of tuition if needed, including the Yellow Ribbon Program.”
Ausman advises spouses and dependents to verify that the service member in their family properly transferred their benefits.
“They can transfer either a portion or all of their GI Bill benefits to eligible dependants, but they must do so before they leave the military. We try to get that message out as often as possible, as that action can’t be undone.”
For more information on transferring Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, visit va.gov
Connect with other military families
As Ausman previously mentioned, it can be challenging for veterans and family members to connect with students from their classes. The Student Veterans of America spans the country and “connects student veterans with a community of like-minded chapter leaders” on college campuses. In addition to providing a welcoming social atmosphere, programs such as SVA provide veterans and families with opportunities for scholarships and workshops.