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New funds help veterans go to school

Legislation gives older students about $1,500 a month for college

Posted: October 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2012 2:00 a.m.

New federal legislation that kicked in this fall semester has allowed more veterans and older veterans to return to school and train for new jobs, College of the Canyons officials said.

“The bill is impacting these veterans who are unemployed, ages 35-60, and they want to come back to school,” said Lt. Renard Thomas, director of the re-entry program and veterans affairs at COC. “Even at a community college, it’s not cheap.”

A result of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act passed in 2011, the funding became available to veterans for the first time this fall, Thomas said.

The latest version of a GI bill offers $1,500 a month for up to 12 months to veterans who are unemployed and between the ages of 35-60. Its aim was to help veterans who served before 9/11.

The previous version of the GI Bill allowed veterans to keep benefits only 15 years. It wasn’t helping those who found themselves unemployed more than 15 years after they left the military.

Thomas said there were 10 COC students who took advantage of the money this semester, but there was difficulty for some students because the first funding release date came during the college’s last weeks of registration.

Due to overcrowding at community colleges statewide — there were thousands of students on waiting lists at the beginning of the semester — it can be difficult for veterans to find classes in high-demand fields late in the registration process, Thomas said.

But for COC student Chris Szajner, who served in the Army during the early ’90s, the timing of the funds couldn’t have been better.

“I actually found out about it around May or June — I had just lost my job,” Szajner said. “I was kind of at a crossroads.”

Szajner said he had wanted to go back to school the year before but couldn’t quite afford it or fit it into his schedule.

“I had to return my books and cancel all my classes,” he said.

Now, he is signed up for one of the program’s approved “high-demand” fields. The $1,500 a month made a return to the classroom possible, he said.

Thomas, who also runs re-entry programs for nonmilitary adult students, encouraged anyone thinking about returning to school to come down to his office between Mentry Hall and Coffee Kiosk on COC’s main Valencia campus.

“I would just tell (veterans) to waste no time and apply,” Szajner said. “It’s definitely an opportunity to better themselves, and literally be all that they can be.”



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