Central Texas College partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Texas Veterans Commission and approximately 30 other organizations on Tuesday to bring current benefits information to veterans during a Veterans Benefits Expo at the Anderson Campus Center.
Several departments from CTC were available to guide veterans — and service members preparing to move into a veteran status — through the various programs provided by the college and how to access them. Booths 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.
“We just try to put all the information that’s out there to the veterans,” said Daniel Reyes, CTC veterans advocate. “There are benefits out there they may not be aware of. So we try to touch bases with them and with the other entities out there. One of my main concerns here as an advocate is to give the benefits out there to all the students. About 50 percent of the students here are veterans using their benefits.”
An expo helps get the word out to veterans on what benefits are available because they earned them, Reyes said. Since benefits tend to change often, giving them the opportunity to learn what they may now be eligible for is important.
“This gets (veterans) better prepared to go out there and compete against other folks out here who are also trying to get employed,” he said. “It’s also great for soldiers preparing to transition out of the military to get this information; that way they are already a step ahead and know what direction they want to go to.”
Nonprofit and veteran organizations also attended the expo. Local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans were available to give information on how they advocate on behalf of veterans and nonprofit organizations such as Operation Phantom Support and Operation Stand Down Central Texas offered veterans opportunities to become volunteers helping out fellow veterans and their families in need.
“People do not often realize that we have a homeless veteran population here,” said Joann Courtland, founder of Operation Stand Down Central Texas — a nonprofit designed to lift homeless veterans back into society. “I just want to share with (veterans) that they have a place to come if they want to volunteer, know someone who may need help or just donate to the organization.”
Knowing about nonprofits such as Operation Stand Down Central Texas is important not only for veterans, but transitioning service members as well, she said.
“We’ve actually had a veteran in our office that had a week-old DD-214 form,” Courtland, an Army veteran herself, said. “So it is something that happens, and it might make them think to prepare. You have to have a plan when making a life-changing transition.”
Gathering up-to-date information on benefits was exactly what was on the mind of soon-to-retire Army 1st Sgt. Michael Taylor, a member of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
“I didn’t know what programs are available to me as a veteran,” Taylor said. “It’s obviously very important for us to understand what is out there ... What’s available to us. I’m here to figure things out.”
Although only a little more than three months from retirement, the knowledge gained from the expo is something he can take back to the soldiers in his unit in order to ensure they are up to date on what’s available as well, he said.
“I just gave up my company on Friday, but I still interact with them,” Taylor said. “It’s very important for me to know (the benefits) so I can coach and mentor everyone. I would recommend all my peers to come to something like this, without a doubt.”