The University of Montana is opening a new office to better serve veterans and active-duty military members.
The rebranding of the former Veterans Education and Transition Services office aims to reach more people connected to the military, whether they are veterans, active service members, or family.
With those relationships, the university will be able to connect more people to the benefits available to them.
“In rebranding, it allows the office to grow and gives us an opportunity to have more outreach, not just to the community, but the state and the entire region,” said Pat Beckwith, director of the new Military and Veteran Services Office. “When we think about growing the office, we think about encouraging veterans and military families to exploit one of the greatest benefits that you get in the military, which is free tuition.”
Beckwith is passionate about the expansion of the office — he is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. He served for a decade as an active-duty Army officer and is now a member of the Montana Army National Guard.
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He’s seen firsthand some of the roadblocks that exist for service members on college campuses. Veterans seeking a degree are often considered nontraditional students, who may be older than typical students and may have families of their own while not taking a full credit load of classes.
Beckwith aims to make campus more accommodating to those connected to the military by offering different styles of credits, a variety of transfer credit opportunities and courses at different times during the day.
“UM is fiercely committed to tearing down the barriers that keep veterans and active-duty military members from using their hard-earned education benefits,” said Seth Bodnar, UM president and a major in the Montana Army National Guard. “This new office will put the needs of our military-affiliated students first so that they can continue their education right here at UM.”
Beckwith noted that the university is commonly rated as a top school in accommodating service members and veterans.
“There are more veterans per capita in Montana than any other state in the nation,” said Mary Kreta, UM associate vice president for enrollment. “It is not only a priority for this university, but it is a responsibility to our state to work harder to ensure more veterans, military members and families use their education benefits to access an education.”
The Military and Veteran Services Office will focus on outreach and certifying Veterans Affairs benefits. Additionally, the office will create a transition program for incoming military students to ensure their success at the university.
One action the university has taken to remove those barriers to higher education was to waive the application fee for veteran students.
There are currently 250 veterans enrolled at UM, in addition to 129 family members and dependents of veterans or service members. There are 19 active members of the National Guard and Army Reserve.
“For veterans, having other veterans who have gone down that path (of pursuing a degree), it’s really important for them to see others in positions of success outside of a military role,” Beckwith said. “Just by virtue of proximity to other veterans in this community, the University of Montana is primed to help them.”