Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF to reach out to veterans with special program

USF student and Navy veteran Corey Elliott, 34, works in the counseling center at USF.


USF student and Navy veteran Corey Elliott, 34, works in the counseling center at USF.

TAMPA — This fall, thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will head to college under a new GI Bill.

Those who enroll at the University of South Florida will find a bonus: a Department of Veterans Affairs counselor ready to help them secure benefits — everything from tuition aid to help for post traumatic stress disorder.

USF is the first university in the nation to receive the on-campus VA staffing, a one-year pilot program called VetSuccess on Campus that Washington officials hope will become a model throughout the country.

After dealing with the VA to arrange his own post-service medical care, USF student Corey Elliott can see the advantage of getting help from someone who knows the VA's bureaucracy from the inside.

Having "that rep here will make that one less worry for a student who has those issues," said Elliott, an eight-year veteran of the Navy studying political science and philosophy.

In addition to placing a vocational and rehabilitation counselor on USF's Tampa campus, the VA will assign a second staffer focusing on mental health to the university in August.

"We're hoping that pilot will be successful and that USF will be the first of many sites," said Ruth Fanning, the VA's director of vocational rehabilitation and employment service in Washington.

USF president Judy Genshaft will sign an agreement for the program with a top VA official on Thursday.

The VetSuccess program was created independently of the new GI Bill, which was passed to provide a broad range of benefits for veterans who were in active service on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

Still, the timing is good. The VA estimates that up to 460,000 veterans will take advantage of the new GI Bill during its first year.

Already, during the first four weeks veterans could submit an application, 46,000 have done so. (If people are in the Reserves or the National Guard and their unit is called up while they're in college on the new GI Bill, they still go to war.)

At USF, the VetSuccess program will go beyond helping students with educational benefits, Fanning said. If a veteran enrolled in college wants help with VA housing benefits, or thinks he or she has symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, the VA counselor is there to assist in finding help.

VetSuccess also is meant to give ex-military students a place to meet and establish their own community, Fanning said. Students coming out of the military have different shared experiences, she said, than the typical 18-year-old college freshman.

So why USF?

Location and reputation.

VA officials needed a university with about 1,000 veterans-students. They needed an institution that could provide office space for the VA. And they wanted a school near VA facilities.

USF quickly made the short list.

The James A. Haley VA Medical Center is next door to USF's Tampa campus, and the Bay Pines VA Medical Center and MacDill Air Force Base are nearby.

USF also typically has 800 to 1,000 veterans or their dependents receiving military benefits that cover tuition and fees. That gives it the nation's 10th-largest population of veteran and dependent students, administrators say.

"It was just a good fit," said Michael Downing, a management analyst in the VA's office of field operations.

The university also has a track record with students who are veterans.

During the Vietnam War, USF used a $95,000 federal grant to establish a standalone Veterans Services Office on campus.

The office helps ex-military students file the voluminous paperwork needed to document that they are taking classes covered by the military benefits that pay their tuition and fees.

When the federal funds ran out in 1993, most universities folded that function into their financial aid or registrars' offices, said USF associate vice president for student affairs Tracy Tyree.

But USF kept its office separate, paying for it with a combination of tuition funds and student activity and service fees.

In 1973-74, USF had 2,280 students who were veterans. After that, the number tapered off, then bumped up again after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The university has yet to see an increase in veteran enrollment from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but most of its veteran students arrive by transferring from a community college, Tyree said. So it could be that they will first go to a two-year college and then transfer in a year or two.

VA staffer Kristin Adams reported to work at VetSuccess last month. The university is providing Adams and the other counselor with office space.

Adams is an Air Force veteran who received a bachelor's and master's degree from USF, so Adams is familiar with issues veterans face and knows both institutions.

"It could have not been a better fit," Tyree said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 269-5311.


GI Bill of Rights

>> 1944: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the original GI Bill of Rights. By July 1956, 7.8 million World War II veterans had participated in education or training programs, and 2.4 million had VA-backed home loans.

>> 1984: The "Montgomery GI Bill" provides a new generation of veterans with home loan guaranties and education programs.

>> 2008: The GI Bill is updated for veterans actively serving on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The new bill covers more educational expenses, provides a living allowance, money for books and the ability to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children.

USF to reach out to veterans with special program 06/02/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 11:15am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Doug Martin relying on strength from drug rehab to power his return


    TAMPA — He would not talk about the drug he abused. He would not identify the rehab facility he entered in January or how long he was there.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin participates in an "open OTA practice" at One Buc Place, the team's training facility, in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
  2. NCAA: Former USF basketball assistant gave improper benefits


    TAMPA — Former USF men's basketball assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided impermissible benefits, including lodging at his home, for two prospective student-athletes while they received on-campus tutoring, according to findings reported to the school by the NCAA.

  3. Assault charge may not sway voters in Montana election (w/video)


    BOZEMAN, Mont. — Republican multimillionaire Greg Gianforte won Montana's only U.S. House seat on Thursday despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground.

    People fill out ballots for the special election to fill Montana's only U.S. House seat at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark on Thursday in Billings, Mont. [Associated Press]
  4. Quiet college dropout turned bomber: Who was Salman Abedi?


    LONDON — He was quiet and withdrawn, a college dropout who liked soccer — and, some say, showed alarming signs of being radicalized years before he walked into a pop concert at Britain's Manchester Arena and detonated a powerful bomb, killing himself and 22 others.

    Salman Abedi was identified by British authorities as the man behind Monday’s attack.
  5. Soldiers launch attacks in besieged Philippine city


    MARAWI, Philippines — Backed by tanks and rocket-firing helicopters, Philippine troops launched "precision attacks" Thursday to clear extremists linked to the Islamic State group from a city that has been under siege since a raid that failed to capture one of Asia's most-wanted militants.

    Soldiers fire at enemy positions Thursday while trying to clear the city of Marawi, Philippines, of armed militants.