MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia University's veteran population is pretty substantial. More than 1,000 veterans attend the school. But the university hasn't always been able to accommodate them in the best of ways. Officials are hoping that's about to change with one particular new space on campus.
Tucked away on the ground floor of the university student union, known as the Mountainlair, there is an office where you will find one of the most important figures at the school. That person is Jerry McCarthy, the director of the office of WVU Veteran's Affairs. He works with West Virginia University's student veteran population. McCarthy helps veterans meet other student veterans, making the transition from soldier to student and getting often complicated GI Bill benefits straightened out.
"You can have the greatest program and services in the world, but you have to wait on the VA in order for them to bill. Service members have to wait a certain amount of time where they have to receive those benefits, and sometimes they get a bit frustrated," said McCarthy.
One of those student veterans is Mark Combs, who is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting. Combs says he's very happy the veterans now have a student center area.
"It's definitely a step in the right direction. It was something that we had been pushing for since 2010. We had been asking for a veteran's center, and it's nice to finally see one," said Combs.
While the university's center doesn't act as a full-time veteran's lounge, where the students can study and socialize, it does provide what McCarthy describes as a central hub for vets. He says when veterans come to campus, they look around for other veterans in veterans only classes at the university for example. McCarthy thinks more services are to come, particularly to help get veterans study and networking help.
"You have to make sure you fit the need of the student. What will expand a lot is the mentor program. Having an office of Veteran's Affairs means the mentor program has a central location, so those mentors can get to those students who need their assistance. We have a new grant that we just wrote, for a tutoring program," said McCarthy.
Mark Combs is about a year away from graduating. He says the last major accomplishment he hopes to make with the student veterans group is to establish a special financial fund, called the Semper Fi fund. This would act as a savings account at a bank, where veterans could borrow money they need and then pay it back at a later time.
"It's an emergency loan fund for veterans. Sometimes the VA doesn't pay you on time, or at all. But a little emergency fund. Veterans face these really unique and special issues, and there needs to be a little bit something extra to help catch them. I would like to see the Semper Fi fund be ready for people by the time I leave," said Combs.
Combs says he also hopes the student veteran resource center expands.
Information from: WVPR-FM, http://www.wvpubcast.org/news.aspx