New veterans services director helps students navigate system

Gus Bedwell

During the past three years, the number of military veterans or their dependents has nearly doubled at Oregon State University, prompting the university to hire a veteran services adviser to help them navigate the labyrinth of state and federal regulations.

The timing couldn’t be better, officials say. New federal benefit guidelines go into effect this June, opening the door for even more veterans or the families to receive tuition assistance. Some of these new benefits specifically target unemployed veterans.

Veterans may be dealing with issues that rarely affect other students, including post-traumatic stress disorder, which can affect how they learn and interact with others. OSU has a variety of resources to help veterans and their dependents deal with academic life.

OSU has 881 students receiving Veterans Administration benefits, but the number of students on campus who may qualify for assistance is likely much higher, said Gus Bedwell, OSU’s veterans services adviser.

“Historically, only about a third of the veteran population utilizes VA benefits,” Bedwell said, “so the actual number of OSU students who may qualify for aid might be closer to 2,000 or 3,000. Some of these students are soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; others are the spouses or children of veterans who may qualify under some of the new benefit packages.”

Bedwell suggests that veterans or their dependents interested in OSU first go to the university’s website for veterans at: http://oregonstate.edu/veterans/home/, which lists different resources and activities on campus. Any veteran, or family member, needing assistance may also contact him directly at gus.bedwell@oregonstate.edu, or call his office at 541-737-7662.

In 2008, OSU had just 395 students register for class using VA benefits, but the number has gone up every year, Bedwell said. One reason is the number of soldiers returning from serving overseas; more than 2,100 Oregon National Guard troops returned stateside.

Perhaps more significant has been the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which funds Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarships. Since 2009, it has provided assistance for the children of veterans killed in active duty.

At a time when more and more veterans are seeking a college education, regulations are becoming more complicated – and assistance is getting harder to find. A pilot program in Oregon to provide Campus Veteran Services Officers for the state’s colleges and universities ran out in 2010, leaving many institutions scrambling to serve its veterans.

“With nearly a thousand eligible students, we felt we needed someone on a full-time basis who could help them with VA benefits,” said Tracy Bentley-Townlin, OSU’s associate dean for student life. “It can be incredibly complex and we were lucky to get Gus, who had worked at the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs as well as with the campus veterans program.”

Bedwell grew up in Mills City, Ore., graduated from Santiam High School, and served in the U.S. Army for six years as a mechanic.

“Like most vets, I spent two-and-a-half years trying to figure out what to do after I got out of the service,” Bedwell said.

Eventually, he enrolled at Western Baptist College (now Corbin University) in Salem and earned a bachelor’s degree in family studies and psychology. While studying there, he began working with the Oregon Employment Department as a veterans representative, and eventually wound up with the Oregon Department of Veterans Services as an accredited Veteran Service Officer, and then lead worker/trainer.

“As a veteran who went to school, worked full-time, and raised a family, I totally understand where our veterans are coming from,” Bedwell said. “You may have to juggle a budget, stay up until midnight studying, and then get up at 5 a.m. and go to work. Oregon State University is really trying to reach out to help its veteran students, which is why I took this job.”

“I really want to help the faculty and staff here to help the students.”

~ Mark Floyd

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