Military feature: Schools have veterans affairs certification officials

By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

Clovis Community College and Eastern New Mexico University have veterans affairs certification officials on staff.

James Smith at CCC and Margaret Estrada at ENMU said they enjoy helping veterans navigate the extensive GI Bill.

“I feel like each veteran has earned these benefits so it’s an honor for me to ensure they receive the maximum benefits they deserve,” Smith said.

Estrada said she has worked at ENMU for 15 years, nine of them working with veterans.

“Working with veterans is by far the most rewarding position I’ve held at ENMU,” she said.

Both VA officials help veterans navigate the GI Bill, assist with degree plans, certifying entitlement and maintaining certification until graduation. They also help veterans with registration, adding and dropping classes and with transcripts.

Smith said the Post-9/11 GI Bill has created new recipients and they have questions.

“I can either answer their questions or send them to a place where they can get answers to those questions,” Smith said.

Smith said the main differences between the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill are different qualifications and amounts paid monthly. With the newer GI Bill, student fees are paid directly to the school as opposed to the student.

“That is really to help out the student,” Smith said. “It takes care of it for them.”

Also, the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows veterans to transfer benefits to a dependent.

“Most questions center around ‘Can I afford to use the GI Bill and not have to work, at least not full-time, and get an education?’” Smith said.

Smith and Estrada said a veteran’s first question is generally “Where do I start?”

The process begins by a veteran applying for benefits online.

Smith also said veterans ask about what portion of tuition and fees will be paid by Veterans Affairs and if it will cover books and supplies.

Tuition and fees are paid up to the maximum in-state tuition at a public institution of higher learning, according to the VA’s Web site.

While Web sites and booklets offer information, Smith said he believes it helps veterans to have a person to ask questions to.

VA certification officials

• James Smith — Clovis Community College

769-4064

james.smith@clovis.edu

• Margaret Estrada — Eastern New Mexico University

562-2175

margaret.estrada@enmu.edu

On the ‘Net

Apply for GI Bill benefits online

• www.gibill.va.gov/

Read about the history of the GI Bill

• www.gibill.va.gov/post%2D911/history%2Dtimeline/