Student veterans look to state for help with higher education - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Student veterans look to state for help with higher education

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A new initiative in Tennessee is helping the state's veterans. Governor Haslam announced a new task force aimed at improving education opportunities for those who have served.

Local veterans are speaking out on issues that the task force needs to address, especially the hardships faced when adjusting back to life as a civilian.

Jordan Betbeze isn't the typical student you expected to find on University of Tennessee - Chattanooga's campus.

"Did school for a year, and then got deployed again," he said.

On top of being  full-time student, Betbeze is a husband, a father of two -- and a veteran. After serving for ten years in the U.S. Army and completing four tours in Iraq, Betbeze, like many soldiers, were used to living a structured lifestyle.

"From six in the morning until six at night, you have planned what you're doing that day, every day, 365 [days a year]," he said, explaining the change from military life to student/campus life as "a culture shock."

That culture shock is partly the reason the new  task force was created in the state. A team of Tennessee educators is working to find better ways to serve student veterans.

Current student vets use education benefits like the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which pays for 36-months of in-state tuition, plus extra money to help with books and a place to live.

"Even though we have a G.I. Bill, it's still not enough," said Betbeze, who is a member of UTC's Student Veteran Organization.

Squoia Holmes of UTC's Office of Student Affairs said some of the 350 student veterans she works with must hold two jobs -- on top of going to school full-time -- to help pay for college expenses.  The stress discourages some students, she said.

"It puts a strain on their academic success and makes them want to give up on going to school because they have to maintain a job to be able to take care of their family," said Holmes, who currently assists 350 student veteran families.

But for veterans like Betbeze, the state's growing effort to help gives him hope.

"People are trying to move from a lip service of just saying, 'Oh, we appreciate our vets' and selling the yellow ribbons at Wal-Mart, to actually doing stuff."

Betbeze hopes the task force can go further than addressing financial issues, like adding more scholarships or financial aid. He said additional on-campus counseling services for extra help with retired soldiers' anxiety or PTSD would be invaluable as well.

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