More robust GI Bill brings more veterans and their families to Western
With a growing number of Western students taking advantage of the GI Bill, WWU's Vetarans Services Office has grown, too.
Phil Coomes, left, program assistant in the
Veterans Services Office, met U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee
during the congressman's visit to campus April 21.
Photo by Daniel Berman,
University Communications Intern
A division of Registrar's office, Veterans Services now has a full-time coordinator. Wendy Gegenhuber, an Army veteran herself, helps veterans and their dependents navigate the requirements of the GI Bill. Gegenhuber is joined by Phil Coomes, a program assistant, recent WWU graduate and Marine Corps veteran. Also in the office is Chris Brown, a Human Services student and Marine Corps veteran who is working in the office as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
Now that Veteran's Services has moved out of the Registrar's office, the three also have more space – enough to pull together a couple of couches and put on some coffee for veterans and dependents who want to stop by and chat. Creating a sense of community for veterans is just as important as providing technical help, Coomes says.
Western's Veterans Services Office(360) 650-3324
"That helped me in my academic career," says Coomes, who graduated in March with a degree in Economics and plans a career in law enforcement. "Having people I could relate to and talk with, that makes a big difference."
Western now has about 230 veterans and their dependents enrolled, Gegenhuber says. Just two years ago, in 2009, there were 137 veterans and dependents enrolled at Western.
She credits the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and its more robust educational benefits, as the reason behind the growth. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays students' tuition and fees directly to Western – and provides students with a living stipend of almost $1,300 a month. Previously, the GI Bill provided a monthly amount of $1,200 to $1,700 for students to cover both school and living expenses.
The Veterans Services Office is looking for ways to help connect veterans with other offices on campus, too. For example, Brown is working with the Career Services Center to designate one person to be the key contact in that office for vets. That may encourage more veterans to take advantage of Career Services' offerings, Brown says.
There are other resources on campus for veterans. The student club Western Veteran's Community organizes community-building and volunteer activities. And the Associated Students Veterans Outreach Center, for example, organizes an annual ceremony commemorating Veteran's Day.
The Veterans Outreach Center is also organizing a series of inclusive, awareness-raising activities the week before Memorial Day, including a local hike, volunteer project, and campus-wide barbecue, says Quentin Irion, the center's coordinator.
Irion says veterans on campus are "interconnected."
"We're busy, but we make time to come and hang out with each other," he says. "It's that unspoken and unseen bond that still exists."