Ask Chad about Careers, Part 2 |
By Chad Sowash | chief experience officer at RecruitMilitary and a former infantry drill sergeant in the United States Army |
Published in the May/June 2010 issue of print Search & Employ® |
Time to go back to school! About six months ago, I walked into an area university to register for classes and investigate my GI Bill options. After going through registration, I was pointed down the hall to chat with the person who helps veterans determine which benefits are the best. I was greeted with a smile and a pamphlet, and that was that.
How frustrating! Wait a minute! After 20 years in the U.S. Army and Reserves, all I get is a smile and a pamphlet? I was totally outraged, and recalled how my initial round of college following my first active duty stint was so much easier. The university literally held my hand to ensure everything was correct with my GI Bill submission. How could things be so different? Why wasn’t I receiving help?
That was 15 years ago, Chad! So, yes, I quickly came to the realization that times have changed. Innovation, coupled with the failing economy, has impacted everything, including a vet trying to get a little help to return to school. So what exactly was I to do?
I went online! The Veterans Affairs GI Bill information online is astounding! The newly revamped www.gibill.va.gov site offers tons of great information and, unlike past government sites, is extremely thoughtful in how information is presented to the user. I was easily able to find a comparison chart to help me understand which of the various GI Bill options were best for me. I chose the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and used the benefit estimator to clarify maximum tuition, maximum fees per term, eligible tuition per credit hour, eligible fees per term and a monthly housing allowance if I meet the specific requirements (Note: start with the Road Map to Success link!).
The video generation! I thought the Post-9/11 GI Bill would be the choice for me, but I wasn’t 100% sure. So, I meandered over to YouTube. I searched for “Post-9/11 GI BILL,” and found a video called “Post-911 GI Bill Guide,” which was thoughtfully produced and answered many of my questions in less than ten minutes. This video provides program benefits, and then offers real-world scenarios, which include:
- Tuition and fees
- Housing Allowance
- Book and supply allowance
- Stipend for rural areas
- Transferring your benefits to family
I was extremely surprised and impressed with the wealth of meaningful information available online.
I engaged a Local Veteran Representative! Last, but not least, I sought help from my very own state workforce agency. That’s right, within many of the local offices (unemployment/employment offices) there are Veteran Representatives responsible for providing veteran support in many different areas. Since I lead the National Labor Exchange with www.JobCentral.com , which interfaces daily with these great individuals, I knew my march would not be complete without closing the loop and receiving guidance from a Vet Rep (Note: there are also representatives allocated to the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program. If you have a disability, ask for a DVOP).
I am a veteran! When you walk into a local state workforce office, make sure the person greeting you at the front desk knows you are a veteran. Why? Veterans receive “Priority of Service,” and are automatically led to the front of the line.
I was then engaged by a member of the workforce staff, and provided my personal information, complete with DD214. This critical document provides the necessary information to label you as a veteran to ensure priority service. After completing the information-gathering process, I was asked to schedule an appointment with Wayne, the vet rep who would be helping me.
Me and my Vet Rep! After a brisk morning run and a cup of Joe, I met Wayne the next morning for our appointment. Wayne asked what we would be focusing on, and I replied, “Schooling benefits.” Wayne admitted that was not his strongest suit; we worked through the process together for well over an hour. Wayne showed me the VONAPP (Veterans Online Application) system, which was reminiscent of older military software. We fought through it, and I successfully submitted my application.
Have your act together! Throughout this process, I referred to my military documentation to answer numerous questions. I found the Army’s AKO (Army Knowledge Online) system made such documentation readily available. Other systems, such as Navy Knowledge Online, Air Force Knowledge Exchange, and the Coast Guard Learning Portal may also provide such information.
I am now registered, and will be attending classes starting this May—thanks to the resources available and people dedicated to helping veterans get back to school. Always remember—the process may be painful at times, but you’ve earned the benefits and should use them down to the very last penny!