Veterans check out options
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Local veterans learned about educational opportunities Thursday at a fair at the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center.
“The mission is to make available to veterans the programs they may be interested in to use their GI benefits,” said Frank Labagnara, a physician and director of Student Medical Education at the Salisbury medical center.
He said the goal is to make the education fair, which involved three dozen North Carolina colleges and universities this year, an annual event.
Many veterans are eligible for education and training benefits for 10 years (15 years if they served post-9/11) after an honorable discharge under GI Bill programs.
Salisbury resident Charles Ward served in the U.S. Army from 1974-76, so he falls outside that limit. But under a vocational rehabilitation and employment program, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs pays veterans like Ward with a service-related disability to go back to college.
Ward said Thursday he used to have a career in justice administration as a probation officer, but “I can’t do that stuff anymore.”
He said he wants to get a master’s degree in sociology so he can work in counseling and help other veterans like him.
Labargnara said many other current and former service members have shown a lot of interest in the fair, which has grown. The first educational fair was held in 2009 with representatives about 25 schools, he said. This year, about 35 schools were involved, thanks in part to a partnership with the University of North Carolina One-Stop Center at Fort Bragg.
The One-Stop Center, hosted by Fayetteville State University, helps connect active military personnel and veterans with UNC schools.
Tony Miller, a medical center employee who helped organize the education fair, said some veterans don’t use their benefits because they don’t know what’s available to them.“There are so many adult learning programs,” Miller said. “Instead of doing traditional college, if they’re working, they can do both.”
Distance learning is another option. A Web portal called eLearningNC helps North Carolinians find online education opportunities.
Kay Zimmerman, associate vice provost of distance education at N.C. State University, said the portal can direct people to one of the 300 community college programs or 262 UNC system programs available online.
For more information about education opportunities for veterans, visit eLearningNC.gov, call the One-Stop Center toll-free at 877-315-4623 or call Miller at 704-638-9000.