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Metro & More – MCC’s Military & Veterans Services

Metro & More – MCC’s Military & Veterans Services


Greetings from the set of Metro & More at
Metropolitan Community College, serving more than 50,000 students with over 120 programs
at our eight locations in the daytime, evening, weekends, or online. Hi, everybody. Welcome back. I’m your host, Kent Pavelka. Welcome again to Metro & More– more of what
you need to know about Metropolitan Community College. In the next half hour, you’re going to learn
all about MCC’s Military & Veteran Services with our guests– three guests on the set
for this show. Gary Sparks is an adjunct IT instructor at
Metropolitan Community College, retired Air Force, along with Daniel Mohr, to Gary’s right. He is a Veteran Certifying Official at the
college and so is Armando Perez. Great to have you gentlemen on the show–
Thank you. And an opportunity to learn about what MCC
does for and with military and veterans. Maybe we can just warm up a little bit– a
little bit of information about each one of you. Armando, if you wouldn’t mind starting– your
background, what you did before you came to the college, and the nature of your military
service. OK, well, thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here. My first initial commitment was serving in
the military with the Air Force. I was in for about 20 years, and I was in
health services information management– enjoyed it very much so. After that I went ahead and retired and moved
on to my next career, which was working with the Department of Labor. And I worked very closely with the Veterans
Administration Employment Services side of the house– enjoyed that with a great passion
helping veterans out and moving forward, and helping them out– go into employabilities. After that I went ahead and moved into a new
career– temporary with the Veterans Benefits Administration. Under the Benefits Administration– umbrella
where I worked on the compensations and disabilities– I really enjoyed that as well, too. And that’s what brought me here to Metropolitan
Community College. I’m now here as a certifying official. Technically it’s called a school certifying
official, but we have been designated as Veteran Certifying Officials to make the oneness connection
with the students that come in our area. I’ve been here since June. Since June? Yeah, so very excited. I have a real strong passion of working with
veterans and all those that fall under the umbrella of the education benefit. Great. Daniel, what’s your background? Sure. Like Armando, I’m retired Air Force. Everybody is Air Force on the set. OK, good. Spent 30 years, and I went all the way to
chief master sergeant. I started out as a little airman basic and
had a pretty blessed career. Throughout my tenure I’ve been in Florida
and Japan and Germany and at Offutt for a couple years. Then I retired out of Tinker with the AWACS
aircraft. In some of my positions I served as a flight
chief and squadron superintendent. And this is where I really developed– I polished
my skills at working with junior enlisted personnel, making sure they were taken care
of. And the skills I learned there– making sure
people are getting the things they need to get the mission accomplished or get their
education accomplished– are things that I brought to our office. And like Armando, I started in June, and it’s
a great position to be in. And I love working with both the active duty
military and the reservist and retirees and, of course, their dependents and their children. Perfect. Gary? Yeah. I’m full-time faculty with the college and
I– I thought you were adjunct. I beg your pardon. I was misinformed. No, that’s perfectly fine– full-time. I started out in the Air Force and served
32 years– 16 years of active duty and then 16 years of Air National Guard. So I helped them out with my knowledge of
Air National Guard and some of the issues that they deal with there, but did that–
got over my career from Alaska to Arkansas, then to Nebraska. So a pretty good– a pretty diverse career. Well, lets just jump into this here and talk
about what Metropolitan Community College does for active members of the military and
retired members and veterans. What is the program in general? The Military & Veterans Services has a program. Amongst several programs, we monitor the education
benefits for the students who come into our facility. And there are several programs– the Montgomery
GI Bill, the Post-9/11 education bill, the Dependents’ Education Assistance Program as
well. So for the most part, our primary focus as
school certifying officials is to monitor the engagement of having students come into
our office. So we can go ahead and be engaged with them
to certify them for the courses that they are eligible for, and they have signed up
for, for the quarters that are coming up. That’s what you do primarily as Veteran Certifying
Officials? That is correct. And that means what, like on an everyday basis? A given student will come in, and what’s the
process? Well, normally what we do is validate their
enrollment status, and by doing that, is they go into the eBenefits portal to make sure
that they are eligible to receive the education benefit. When they come in we do the assessment. And it’s called the comprehensive initial
assessment, because we do provide the full-service concept in our area. That being said, when the student comes in
and takes it and brings in the document, which is called a Certificate of Eligibility, we
turn around and enroll them into the system, which is the VA system called the VA-ONCE. We’ll turn around and monitor them and make
sure that they are continuing in that program with that certification process, until the
program is complete with the Metropolitan Community College. And that’s just the beginning portion of it. After that what we do is turn around and stay
in touch with them, and touch bases with them, and make sure that they stay within a certain
standard of academic progress– make sure they don’t go below the 2.0, because it may
affect their education benefits. And do you all three do the same things with
the students entering the program? Well, that’s their primary function as faculty. And as veteran faculty, we’re in the classroom
with those students, working with the students, help them work through the curriculum, understand
the material, and to be better prepared once they complete their program to go to work. Several years ago one of the veteran students
said, we’d like to know who their faculty are that are veterans. So the faculty self-identified. And a lot of the veterans– they can ask their
advisor. And I think we have it on our website too,
where they can go and say, oh, well, Gary Sparks is a veteran, so I can be looking for
his name in the schedule. And a lot of the students feel more comfortable
with that. I mean, is there a special programming that
they receive as a result of having a military experience? I mean, is there a different experience for
them in the classroom as a result? It is. If you view the military as a culture– it
is a culture. Even though you have the five distinctive
branches, there is a culture. And when you see two of the military members
get together, you see that relationship, and that rapport almost immediately is established. And they build on that relationship. And they go back to their military experiences,
where they rely on each other and help each other out. Daniel, what’s a typical day like for you
in terms of dealing with the veterans and the retirees? Busy, but it’s enjoyable and fun. A lot of times the services– when folks transition
out of the military, the educational bemefits– the service doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining
those. But it’s really not a service program. It’s more of a VA program. So what we do is help bridge that gap when
they show up at our office. We help explain what the different programs
are that Armando had mentioned earlier and guide them– or guide them to the correct
application, so they can apply for the benefit and then fill those information gaps. Of course, if the student has a lot of questions,
we always rely back on the VA, too. Because the VA Is always the approval authority
for everything that happens as regarding that Certificate of Eligibility that Armando mentioned. And sometimes we ask the students to review
that website before they make a determination– so when they select a benefit, whether it’s
a Montgomery GI Bill or a Post-9/11. So they select the benefit that works best
for them. Available to everyone who is eligible or wants
to explore whether they’re eligible is the MVS Handbook, correct? We can show that. Is this the college’s handbook? Well, basically the handbook is just a resource
handbook that we provide and give out to our students that come in. And it’s a very good, handy handbook that
has all of the partners, and all of the community areas, and other colleges as well. So it’s a very familiar handbook that the
student can relate to, and connect to, and know where to go to for questions and answers. So it’s a way of making that transition smoother
for the student. What’s the reality? Do these folks pretty much know? I guess you answered that, Armando. A lot of them don’t know about the details
of eligibility. But, I mean, do we need to reach out to them
and let folks know in the community that this is available to them or are they aware? Most of our students are knowledgeable. They have received information either from
the Veterans County Office, from the VA system, from the active duty military portals about
their education benefits– that they have available to them, because of the service
that they were committed when they did their active duty– also with the Guard and the
Reserve. And so that being said, is they are more knowledgeable
at this time frame, where they know that there’s going to be education benefits available to
them. Henceforth, that is why a lot of our military
people have gone into the military, because they know they’re going to be able to receive
some kind of education benefit on top of their enlistment. You bet. And so they’re aware of it. The question is, where does it start, and
when can I enroll for it, and where do I start, as far as the contact? And that’s where we come in place, where the
referral partners versus– whether it be Voc Rehab or the Veterans County Offices– they’ll
refer them to us. Well, we should then focus a little bit on
how to get a hold of folks, because that’s the message here, right, is that you’re available? And so first of all, I know there’s information
on the website, correct? That is correct. Yes. And we’ve got contact numbers that we’ll share
as well. We’re talking about a variety of different
kinds of folks– active duty, dependents, retirees, separated veterans, surviving spouses. And so that’s a big list of folks there. And to include children, too. Children are eligible– as well for those
that are a surviving spouse– for parents as well– that were in the military. So they’re eligible for the program itself,
too. As long as they’re under the age of 26, they
fulfill that requirement, and they could be eligible for the education benefits as well. And what’s the issue about the age of under
26? There is a stipulation to– the Veterans Administration
has put off that they want to make sure the student that is using– that is, of a child–
they can go only up to the age of 26 to pursue their education program of study. That being said, as soon as they’re out of
high school– the two-year or the four-year programs that they join up to partake in. And there’s different rules, too, for like
a spouse– that it doesn’t cut off at 26. It goes a little longer. Sometimes it’s driven by a unique case. And sometimes the VA will waive certain requirements
if the situation warrants it. So for anybody viewing who is motivated as
a result of what we’re talking about and wants to talk to you, what’s the process? Just to go ahead and get on– or a phone call
or email. We have provided our email address and our
phone number as well to just give us a call. We do monitor the phone calls and the emails
24/7. So usually when they come in, within the next
business day, we’ll respond back to those phone calls and the inquiries. So they are more than welcome to reach out
to contact us that way. And then there’s an appointment, I assume? Right– well, walk-ins. We actually encourage walk-ins. We do appointments because some folks are
by schedule, but generally, we encourage folks. When you’re ready, come on in, because we’ll
take care of you. And you two are located where? All three certifying officials are at the
South Omaha Campus. We are in the Connector Building. We are in room 134 and right next to student
services. Our hours of operations are Monday through
Thursday, from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM. And then on Fridays, we are from 8:00 until
3:00 PM. And then I assume that part of the educational
process at that point is to make it clear that there are folks like Gary available–
who have been there and done that– who will be in the classroom with you, correct? Yes. And one thing that’s nice too with the veteran
teachers– the faculty members and other faculty members, too– is sometimes they understand
the unique aspect of military service in that a student could be here today, but they could
be gone tomorrow. And sometimes students will coordinate through
our office– hey, I’m leaving. Can you help me do something? And we coordinate sometimes with the faculty
member– can you help the student out? And what we found across MCC is most of the
faculty members are like, yeah, we can accommodate that. We can let this student do their homework
via email, and then when they get back in the class, we’ll get them up to speed. How does that work, Gary? This last quarter I had a student that was
sent TDY shortly after the course started. TDY? TDY– temporary duty. And so I had the student– he went ahead. And since we were using the Blackboard Learning
Management System, he had access to that while he was traveling. And the big thing is the students communicate
with us, and it works pretty well. The students are able to keep up with their
assignments and post them. And they communicate through us through email. I have had students in Afghanistan, and I
knew that before they actually left the country. And they did very well. They were timely and got all of their assignments
done as needed. Metropolitan Community College is really dedicated
to providing these services and special events, too. And one of them every year is the annual Veterans
Day celebration at the South Omaha Campus. We have a little video of the 2014 event. Let’s take a look. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Metropolitan Community College’s
Veterans Day ceremony. I’m Chief Master Sergeant Gary Sparks, retired,
a faculty member at MCC. And I’ll be your narrator for today’s event. Please stand and remain standing for the entrance
of the official party, recognition of the POW/MIAs, posting of the colors, and playing
of the national anthem. I would like to explain the meaning of the
items in this special row. The table is round to show everlasting concern
of our missing men and women. The table cloth is white, symbolizing the
purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. The single red rose displayed in a vase reminds
us of the life of each of the missing and the loved ones and friends of these Americans
who keep the faith, awaiting answers. The vase is tied with a yellow ribbon as a
symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing. The chairs are empty. They are missing. This year, Metropolitan Community College
has permanently assigned service covers for the branches. Adopting the Marine Corps tradition, all service
covers must be assigned to soldier, marine, sailor, or airman. We are talking about our Military & Veteran
Services at Metropolitan Community College and a look at the 2014 Veterans Day celebration
at the South Omaha Campus. That’s a great event every year. Yes, it is. We’ve been doing that for nine years now. You’ve got a display case with service caps,
right? Yes. We can take a little peek at that, too, maybe
set it up a little bit. What are we going to be looking at? Well, the service cover is every year. And what you saw on the video was the Navy
Junior ROTC from Papillion-La Vista South. They do the color guard and honors ceremony. And this honors POW and MIAs. And the service covers represent each branch. And they’re carried in precedent by the oldest
service first, which is Army, Marine, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. And that’s the priority that they’re brought
in. But the service covers are now owned by the
college. And this year we followed a Marine Corps tradition
that every cover is assigned to a marine, airman, soldier, or sailor. So these are all Nebraskans that are assigned
to these covers, and we did that as part of the ceremony this year. Service covers for the lay folks out there
meaning the– The caps that the military wear. Right, right. Very good. 30 minutes goes by in a hurry. And this is an area that Metropolitan Community
College is really focusing on– Military & Veteran Services. I want to just let you talk about what you
think is important that our viewers know about the programming. Well, we enjoy the commitment that we’ve made
in serving the veterans, the community. And we have a mission statement that we established. And our motto is that we are proud to serve. And it is a passion of all of ours as veterans
ourselves to welcome all of those students that come into our office– that are eligible
for the VA education benefits– and to allow them to be able to use those tools to put
them up onto the next level of seeing a career progression, which in turn, will lead them
to the employability side. And so we have a lot of successes that we
want to continue to deal with when it comes to servicing the customer that comes through
to our area. And we’re very excited being available to
them when they come into our area. Perfect. And additionally, while folks come in, and
they’re maybe new to college, or they’ve been out of college for a while, and they’re coming
back, we sit down. And we take the time with that student and
explain their benefits and how the process will go. And, of course, we never want to rush a student
through the process. When they feel comfortable then we press forward
with the next step. And a lot of times what we’ll do is get students
who maybe kind of know what they want to do, but don’t know what they want to do. And we have an academic advisor on our team,
Dave Reyes, who is very astute at taking a student from the big picture down to exactly
what they want to do with a couple of very pointed questions– and he’s very professional,
too, and as our whole staff, I think– is pretty good at taking care of the needs of
the student. And, of course, our goal is to get them in
the classroom, like Armando said, and get them out and into being productive in the
workforce. One of the things that our veterans service
does– it sets an example for a lot of other schools, too. It provides space for our veterans to just
get away and associate with other veterans and so forth– so much so that the adjutant
general has used us as a benchmark for other schools that he’s associated with to make
sure that we are providing the services those veterans have, so they are successful. So you’re saying it’s a unique program. Very unique. In terms of the support they get in the classroom,
you think? The support they get in the classroom– not
only in the classroom, but with these guys in the office. Navigating the VA system and the paperwork
can be time-consuming and frustrating. Is there any way in a minute or two to throw
out what the basic benefits are? There are so many nuances to it that it’s
probably– dare not go there, I suppose. The first one that seems to be used in a high
percentage right now is the Post-9/11 chapter education benefit. Any military veteran that served active duty
for four years or more is eligible for that education benefit. They are also eligible to receive what’s called
Basic Housing Allowance, along with a book stipend. And so depending on the number of hours that
they take throughout each quarter the Metro gives– that’s where they’ll get a certain
amount of the book stipend and the BAH– that comes to them at the end of each month. And that’s just the first one that we have
a lot of students come in to see us. The next one is the Montgomery GI Bill, which
is Chapter 30. And usually those are the veterans that have
been in for quite a while and have built up their benefits a long ways to use it in the
education side of the house. We are also certifying those as well, too,
to come into our office. But we also have the Vocational Rehab, Chapter
31. Students are coming through us. And these are students that are veterans that
have a disability compensation benefit of 20% or more. And so the Voc Rehab staff are the ones that
collaborate with us to put them into the system– for them to go ahead and get enrolled, get
their degree or the program, and then the end goal is to become employable. And those are just the basic, major three
ones. Sure. Is the sense of this in our particular geographic
area that most of the folks who are eligible are taking advantage of their benefits or
not? I wouldn’t say a large preponderance are. It’s probably driven by the service members
or the veteran’s unique situation– whether or not they’re using their benefits. For instance, in my case, I pursued my degree
while I was in the service using service Tuition Assistance. And what I’m going to do is– or I did– I
transferred my entitlement to my son and my daughter, which is a wonderful option with
chapter 33 for those folks that are still on active duty. And it gives my two kids two years of college
taken care of. It’s probably more fitting for Guard and Reserve
as the Guard and Reserve– they’re one weekend a month and two weeks a year. So it becomes more of a benefit for them to
be able to pursue their education and continue moving up. We touched on this. We probably ought not finish the show without
talking about some of the partners involved in this enterprise– Lutheran Family Services,
Women’s Center for Advancement, Veterans County Office. We’ve talked about them and the coordinating
effort of the Offutt Air Force Base folks. And if I could just jump in, too. Both the Women’s Center for Advancement and
the Lutheran Family Services are more specifically the Vets4Vets programs. It’s really unique in that they have staff
members come out every week to talk with our students while school is in session. And what is neat about the guy who runs the
Vets4Vets program is a couple weeks ago, I got a phone call from a prospective student. And he paid– never used his benefit before–
wanted to see about using it. And then he went into talking about some of
the issues he was having at work and within his family. And he was unhappy with certain aspects of
his life. And I said, hey, let’s not talk about school. Let’s talk about something else. Hey, I know a guy. Would you be willing to talk to him? Well, OK. So I did the information exchange between
the student and the facilitator for the Vets4Vets program. So the Vets4Vets program coordinator contacted
that veteran– things going OK? What can we do for you? Because the Vets4Vets– they offer a lot of
different opportunities for students, whether it be counseling or financial support or something. If they have a shortfall in their life or
something that’s bugging them, they can reach out and Vets4Vets can very often help or at
least refer to another agency. And the Women’s Center for Advancement is
similar to that, except they’re more focused on female veterans vice a male or female. Yeah. I want to make that clear. We’re talking about both genders here. And then they enroll in the Student Veterans
Association. I think you alluded to that. Yes. The Student Veteran Association– it’s an
association that the students can come together, and they do things. They can do community projects and things
like that. And it’s another avenue for them to build
leadership skills, for the student to be able to associate with other veterans. And they meet on a somewhat regular basis. And it’s a national organization like many
others. So they get to come together and do different
activities. Military & Veteran Services at Metropolitan
Community College– what else would you like our viewers to know about what you all are
doing in this field? The earlier a student can enroll for the education
benefits, the smoother the transition will be for us to go ahead and put them on a timeline
of getting started for each quarter of the school. That being said, even if the school has already
started, and they’re still thinking of using their benefits, they can still come in and
see us. And we can still go ahead and process them
for the VA education benefit. For the next quarter– starting the next quarter? Same quarter that they’re in. Yes. Great. Additionally, we have similar backgrounds
to our students. We’re veterans. And when they talk about an operation, yeah,
I’m familiar with that. And it’s nice to connect with veterans. And I think sometimes each veteran has a story
to tell. Now, if they want to share that story– they
do or they don’t. But when they do share, I think they’re glad
to talk about their contributions they made while they were in the military. And I always like to hear what other folks
have done, and it helps motivate me to do a good job for them– kind of a little payback
for them. That’s great. Gary? Yeah, and I totally agree. We get the students in the classroom. They start sharing. Last fall there was a student that referred
to me as my military rank, because he knew I was retired as a chief. And, of course, it’s like the saying, once
a marine, always a marine. Once a chief, always a chief. And so a lot of times the students say they
realize that. And they’ll come up, and they’re more open
to talk with us about things that they’re dealing with. Yeah. We’ve got about a minute left. I guess the bottom line is take advantage
of this, right? Yes. Absolutely. Yes, the benefits are there. They’re available for those active duty, the
retirees, the spouses, and sometimes the children. So please feel free to reach out to us. We’re available, and we welcome people to
come in to see us. Thank you, Armando. Daniel, Gary, thank you very much for your
service and for what you’re doing for Metropolitan Community College in the area of Military
& Veteran Services at Metropolitan Community College. Thank you for being with us again on Metro
& More. Our goal is to better acquaint you with the
mission, the leadership, and the reach of the college. I’m Kent Pavelka for Metropolitan Community
College. This has been a MetroVision production produced
by Metropolitan Community College. At Metropolitan Community College the faculty
bring more than just their degrees. They bring international experience, decades
of industry expertise, and creativity that transcends the classroom. Through quality instruction and one-on-one
attention, we deliver the skills and education students need for success. In 2012 MCC added $93.8 million to the local
economy via brain gain. The experienced option is Metropolitan Community
College.


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