Three state agencies are formalizing their agreement to coordinate efforts to help West Virginia's veterans access education programs and benefits.
The Department of Veterans Assistance is now working, in a coordinated way, with the Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System to educate veterans on the benefits they are eligible for after military service.
WVDVA Cabinet Secretary Rick Thompson said the initiative arose from officials' worries about the relatively small number of veterans in West Virginia who are taking advantage of their education benefits - nearly 60 percent of veterans aren't accessing those benefits.
"What I'm trying to do here in this is make the veterans more aware of the services that are available," Thompson said. "This is just another step in reaching out and getting the maximum amount of communication ... We all have the same goal, we just have to work together."
The agreement was finalized Tuesday when officials at all three agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Moving forward, the WVDA's field staff, who keep in regular contact with veterans across the state, will be trained by staff from the HEPC -- the local authority on programs that can benefit veterans, including the GI Bill.
In a release, CTCS Chancellor James Skidmore called the agreement a "win-win" for the state's schools and veterans.
"This cooperative venture will benefit the many veterans and military members likely to choose our community colleges to further their education and training," he said. "We see it as yet another way to open opportunities to those who think they simply can't pursue an education program."
HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill noted that strides are being made -- the number of veterans attending West Virginia's colleges and universities has been increasing steadily.
"We need to be sure we are doing all we can do to help these students succeed, beginning with helping them understand how to access the benefits and then find a good education program to meet their needs," he said.
Veterans often struggle to navigate the complex, often-changing system that allots them education benefits for their military service. Officials hope that putting staff trained to navigate these programs in direct contact with veterans will ease the process.
"There are a lot of education benefits out there -- I used them myself and could not have receive my education without them," Thompson said.
"So I know it's good for the veteran, and I know that it's also good for the state and good for the country."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.