Col. Brian McHugh has a decision to make. He is transitioning out of a military career that he loved with Fort Hood’s Operational Test Command and was now needs to decide on what the next chapter of his life will be.
“Some people know exactly what they want to do when they are stepping into a job. But for folks like me, someone leaving what they love, and trying to find something else that is going to fulfill them, it’s important to learn all that is out there,” McHugh said.
To gain some insight, McHugh attended the Veterans Benefits Expo at Central Texas College’s Anderson Campus Center on Tuesday.
Central Texas College partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Texas Veterans Commission and approximately 20 other organizations to bring current benefits information to veterans during the benefits expo.
Several departments from CTC were on hand to discuss with active-duty military, veterans and their family members on how various programs provided by the college work and how to access them. Tables ranged from admissions to disability support services and how to utilize the Hazelwood Exemption Act — a benefit for Texas veterans where the state will pay for up to eight semesters of college tuition.
Stephanie Lopez, a financial aid assistant for CTC, uses events like this to not only reach out to future students, but to also dispel misconceptions that she encounters with veterans.
“It’s a personal thing, I like to be able to tell the students as much information as I can. So when they say to me, ‘well I didn’t join in the state of Texas but I lived here, or I graduated from a Texas high school.’ I can take that little bit of information and see if they are covered under the Hazelwood Act. Unlike others that would just say ‘well it’s not on your DD-214 so you’re not covered’,” Lopez said.
Other organizations, like Lone Star Legal Aid, offered soldiers and veterans free legal advice on child support modification, family law and other issues.
“I know some people think paying tens of thousands of dollars means you have the best in legal services, but Lone Star Legal Aid has some of the best attorneys for the military for free,” said Jalanda Johnson, a paralegal at Lone Star Legal Aid.
Central Texas College staff were pleased with the turnout and to see that approximately 300 people attended the event and were able to receive a variety of resources.
“This is the third year that we have done this Veterans Benefits Expo and it’s a win-win for the military community here, the veterans transitioning out, and for us here at the college,” said CTC spokesman Bruce Vasbinder.