A conference in Iowa City Tuesday will bring together nearly 100 key Iowans who are responsible for telling the state’s military veterans about benefits they’re due. John Mikelson, an advisor at the University of Iowa Veterans’ Center, says the conference will address issues facing veterans who are returning to Iowa and the vital support systems needed to integrate them back into civilian life.
“Most importantly is making sure they can access their G-I Bill,” Mikelson says. “The certifying officials have traditionally been the front lines in interacting with the V-A when it comes to money for education.” Just at the U-of-I, nearly 400 students are veterans, spanning a diverse array of majors, ages and different branches of the military. Mikelson expects the veteran numbers to grow in all Iowa schools because the state has one of the country’s highest levels of military volunteerism.
“There’ve been multiple changes in the post-9-11 G-I Bill, or Chapter 33,” Mikelson says. “Several schools are participating in the Yellow Ribbon program which helps students bridge the gap between the maximum paid under the G-I Bill and the actual cost of attendance.” He says the top health care-related issue returning veterans deal with is mental health, while the second is hearing loss.
“It’s not a big deal to get an accommodation from the school but it is a big deal for a soldier, sailor, airman or marine to say, okay, I’m not operating at 100%, I need help,” Mikelson says. “That’s not in their nature to ask for help. We want to show them that it’s out there, for the asking.”
He says veterans’ service providers are working diligently to remove stigmas that may exist with seeking mental health treatment or even using a V-A hospital, as some have the perception the V-A is only for World War Two-era veterans. Mikelson says they’re also getting out the word to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that they automatically qualify for five years of free health care through the V-A, a fact that sometimes gets lost during the discharge process.