The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) recently announced the Higher Education Opportunity Act Technical Corrections Bill (H.R.1777), passed by the House and Senate on June 23 and expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama, includes the exclusion of all those Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits from estimated financial assistance. NASFAA advocated for the new provision in order for new GI Bill benefits not to be counted against a veteran student’s estimated financial assistance.
“The legislation says that we no longer have to take into account veteran’s educational benefits when determining eligibility for federal financial aid programs, such as Pell grant, ACG and SMART grants, and work-study,” said Elaine Rivera, executive director for Student Financial Services at UTPA. “This takes effect on July 1, 2009 and will apply to financial aid recipients for the 2009-10 award year.”
Rivera said in the past, financial aid offices were required to count veteran's educational benefits when determining eligibility for financial aid, which sometimes reduced their financial aid eligibility.
“This means that some veterans will be able to get more financial aid than they were able to get in the past,” Rivera said.
Also, to assist veterans interested in attending or already enrolled at UTPA, the University will open a Veterans Services Center in mid-August that will certify veterans to receive veterans benefits and coordinate all other services required by veterans, including but not limited to, admission, advisement, registration, tutoring, counseling, and off-campus services.
“Our bottom line goal is to ensure that the services needed are readily provided to veteran students and coordinated through one office. We currently have approximately 300-400 veteran students that are receiving benefits, but that number is expected to grow dramatically as veterans return from OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom),” said Lise Blankenship, director of UTPA Counseling and Psychological Services.
The Veterans Services Center will be located in the University Center on the second floor and will employ a manager, clerk, advising coordinator, and a clinical therapist.
"While we currently provide some services to veterans, we felt it necessary to establish an office that will provide centralized and comprehensive services to current veteran students and the anticipated increased number of veterans who are returning to school after serving in the Middle East," said Richard Trevino, director of Student Support Services. "The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its higher education programs and benefits and we want to make sure our students take full advantage of these programs in support of their education. Our UTPA veteran students have proudly served their country and this is the least we can do for them."
To learn more about VA education benefits at UTPA, contact the Office of the Registrar at 956/3812481 or to find out about financial aid opportunities, visit www.utpa.edu/finaid.