Interview with John Bechtol

Brian Sonnentag, Interviewer | 1125
UW-Madison Campus Voices | Badger Veterans

0:00No transcript.

0:00 - Introduction

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0:33 - Existing services for veterans in 2008

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Partial Transcript: So, first of all, thanks, John, for meeting with me.

Segment Synopsis: John Bechtol (JB) says Vets for Vets functioned to get veterans information, housed near Brothers Bar on Lake and University. VA certified official in Registrars office would certify benefits. No outreach to incoming student veterans. It was up to the veteran to contact either group for possible benefits. There were many veterans on campus that were not collecting benefits that they were eligible for. This assessment was used to start a new policy for the following fall.

Keywords: registrar; student organization; student veterans; VA certification; Veterans Affairs; veterans' benefits; Vets for Vets

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2:11 - Establishing new programs

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Partial Transcript: If you could, just take me through the process of what you did.

Segment Synopsis: In 2008 and 2009 Bechtol contacted representatives from resources on campus to try and create communication between them. He details that in June 2009 all incoming student veterans were identified and contacted, participated in special sessions at SOAR. This was also a time to create personal connections. The goal was to make it so that all that veterans should have to worry about when arriving on campus are traditional worries, like finding classes. Also a current Vet for Vet member is paired up with each veteran coming in. In some cases he is asked to meet or consult a student depending on the situation.

Keywords: bureaucracy; bursar's office; counseling; financial aid office; Madison Veterans Center; mental health; orientation; parking; registrar; SOAR; Student Orientation, Advising and Registration; student veterans; UHS; University Health Service; VA Hospital; Veterans Affairs; veterans benefits

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7:34 - Using military experience on the job

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Partial Transcript: You yourself served 21 years in the military with the Army and the Army National Guard.

Segment Synopsis: Bechtol believes that anyone who cares can be good at dealing with veterans. He says where his service is helpful is with military specific issues, he knows where they are coming from. Also a veteran might be more trusting of a fellow vet, in the beginning.

Keywords: ETSing; expiration term of service; student veterans; Veterans Affairs

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9:28 - Students activated during the semester

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Partial Transcript: One of the things that I came across that was more cumbersome for certain universities...

Segment Synopsis: He explains that they sit down with each student to discuss what classes might be able to be completed. In the event this is not the case the university allows them to withdraw without punishment, and with reimbursement of any tuition already paid. These are special exceptions for members of the armed forces. He references a story of a National Guard member who believed he was needed for flood relief for a few days, and was gone for three weeks. Bechtol's went out of his way to help this student and his professors understood the situation. Professor help varies. He talks of congress's limit of activation time to one year and its effect on deployment. This had adverse effects on being simultaneously activated and enrolled in classes. Students had to adapt to types of classes they could take.

Keywords: class schedule; deployment; flood relief; military rotations; mobilization; National Guard; online lecture; reserve military; student veterans; tuition refund; withdrawal

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16:12 - University commination with students who are deployed

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Partial Transcript: I have a few questions regarding while members are deployed

Segment Synopsis: Bechtol explains that during deployment their student account is open and operational, they can even register for classes. If the student knows they will be back a certain time, this makes sure that they are not at a disadvantage classes wise when they return. There is not however a certain date set aside, it is based on their credits to date. This carries on for the following two semesters after deployment in case they are not ready to return, after this they must re-apply. He says that they don't try and burden them with superfluous details. Normally the student will contact his office, for academic advising.

Keywords: deployment; registration; veterans benefits

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20:13 - Online and distance classes for service members

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Partial Transcript: I know that UW-Madison doesn't offer a wide variety or large amount of distance learning classes...

Segment Synopsis: He says that some members have taken online classes, UW Extension offers courses. He explains that the main obstacle is if the credits transfer. Bechtol gives the example that the most taken is a grand strategy online class offered out of the History department, with people enrolled around the world.

Keywords: admissions office; deployment; distance learning; grand strategy; online classes; transfer credits; UW-Extension; veteran benefits

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22:31 - Six credit hours for basic training

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Partial Transcript: Is there any credit given for military classes that they might have taken during their active duty...

Segment Synopsis: Six credit hours are given for completion of any basic training, this equals the amount given for the first two years of ROTC on campus. Other credit is given for classes if a similar class is offered at UW-Madison, this is simply because if one isn't offered those are empty credits. This is not a shot at military training he explains, the same would be the case for credits from any other university. A student is given the chance to explain why they should apply. The biggest one he sees that does usually transfer are language classes.

Keywords: basic training; Defense Language Institute; foreign language classes; language immersion; language proficiency test; ROTC; student veterans; transfer credit

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25:12 - Transitioning to UW from active duty

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Partial Transcript: Moving on to-- a veteran's gone through their active duty...

Segment Synopsis: Bechtol says that that is something that they are still experimenting with, especially dealing with the transition from strict military life to the “controlled chaos” of Madison. Even the mindset of a professor might be odd to them, he says. Academic guides on campus are advocated and veterans have a stipend for tutoring. Bechtol says that starting in Fall 2011 a one credit Veterans Transition Course will be offered to aide veterans on various topics. Often the difficulty of the tasks asked might not be what the veteran is used to. The material, not the conditions, are the challenge.

Keywords: active duty; campus culture; class failure rate; Greater University Tutoring Service; GUTS; private tutoring; student service; student veterans; veterans affairs; veterans transition seminar

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30:37 - PTSD services

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Partial Transcript: Other studies that I've seen place about a 30-35% rate of PTSD...

Segment Synopsis: Typically a diagnosis will take place before leaving service. Generally the VA Hospital or the Madison Vet Center. He thinks that sometimes the VA Hospital can be a little imposing, because it is fairly large, whereas the Vets Center is smaller and is used for counseling. Also UHS counseling has been contacted. But UHS generally refers the student, if PTSD is an issue, to one of the places referenced above.

Keywords: diagnosis; group therapy; Madison Vet Center; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD; student veterans; UHS Counseling; VA Hospital; veterans affairs

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34:15 - Benefits of military service to students

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Partial Transcript: Obviously PTSD is possibly one of the negatives of serving in the military.

Segment Synopsis: Bechtol thinks the life experience gives them a broader view of the world, and has experience with higher responsibilities. Time management is another valuable tool, JB says. Also coming from poor situations, the fact of being where they are brings a certain gratitude.

Keywords: military experience; student veterans; work experience

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38:13 - UW-Madison political climate/Yellow Ribbon Program

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Partial Transcript: Shifting away from the service member in particular and more into the scope of UW campus in general....

Segment Synopsis: JB believes institutionally the school is neutral. He cites the past activism on campus, but says that he has never been harassed while in uniform. He does believe that there are things that the school could be involved in to show more commitment to veterans, particularly the Yellow Ribbon Program. Madison is the only Big Ten School not participating, and he hopes this will change. He believes that the school doesn't want to invest financially. The program helps students attend out of state schools. He does not view this as a statement by the school against the military or people who have served.

Keywords: Assistant Dean of Students; campus climate; Edgewood College; financial aid; GI Bill; Marquette University; Post 9/11 GI Bill; student affairs; student veterans; tuition remission; university budget; UW-Madison; veterans affairs; Yellow Ribbon Program

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42:22 - Residency and tuition issues in Yellow Ribbon Program

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Partial Transcript: I've read that the post-9/11 GI Bill, since you brought it up - that's part of what the Yellow Ribbon Program is...

Segment Synopsis: Certain changes are coming concerning this, making it worse for out of state students. He explains and example of a student from California, who is going to see a jump in tuition he pays from a few hundred to around eight thousand. But this student can't now go back to California and try to use his benefits. Even Minnesota residents face similar problems, and he lists examples. JB says that without a national program it's really up to the university. He uses Indiana as an example of what he says is a “Veteran Friendly” campus, because even before the Yellow Ribbon Program they were offering in state tuition to out of state veterans. JB says he doesn't know if UW-Madison will ever reach this level.

Keywords: in-state tuition; Madison Area Technical College; MATC; out-of-state tuition; Post-9/11 GI Bill; residency; student veterans; transfer student; university budget; university chancellor; veterans benefits; Yellow Ribbon Program

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48:17 - Post 9/11 GI Bill

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Partial Transcript: We've kind of transitioned into talking a little bit about the post-9/11 GI Bill.

Segment Synopsis: Certain changes are coming concerning this, making it worse for out of state students. He explains and example of a student from California, who is going to see a jump in tuition he pays from a few hundred to around eight thousand. But this student can't now go back to California and try to use his benefits. Even Minnesota residents face similar problems, and he lists examples. JB says that without a national program it's really up to the university. He uses Indiana as an example of what he says is a “Veteran Friendly” campus, because even before the Yellow Ribbon Program they were offering in state tuition to out of state veterans. JB says he doesn't know if UW-Madison will ever reach this level.

Keywords: GI Bill; Post 9/11 GI Bill; Senator Jim Webb; student veterans; tuition remission; veterans affairs; veterans benefits; WWII veterans

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50:39 - Communication between universities regarding veterans affairs

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Partial Transcript: We've also talked a little bit about schools outside of UW-Madison.

Segment Synopsis: JB says that in the beginning he contacted University of California-Long Beach, and the veterans adviser shared a lot of great ideas with him. He also said that sometimes schools won't cooperate, he references a fellow Big Ten School. Bechtol says, in the military plagiarism is the greatest form of flattery. He also says that he is contacted regularly by other schools. He says he would like to see a veterans center to better coordinate activities, this is something you see on good veteran campuses.

Keywords: Big Ten Schools; CSU Long-Beach; student veterans; transfer students; veterans affairs; Vets for Vets

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54:02 - Competition among colleges for student veterans

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Partial Transcript: Obviously we're a bigger school. A lot of 4-year schools are finding it hard to compete for enrollment with veterans.

Segment Synopsis: Veterans are a preferred population for admissions, but it is hard here. They need to demonstrate that they can succeed to be admitted. Sometimes those choices are what they need to prove themselves. He definitely believes that for profit schools are popping up to take advantage. But he does say that the university doesn't recruit veterans, because they already receive enough applications. He says the biggest way to attract veterans is to sign up for the Yellow Ribbon Program, because Wisconsin is a recognizable and respected name.

Keywords: admissions; admissions standards; college applications; community colleges; for-profit colleges; Post-9/11 GI Bill; preferred admissions; student recruitment; student veterans; transfer students; Yellow Ribbon Program

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58:05 - UW-Madison's student veterans demographics

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Partial Transcript: I've looked - while we're talking about veteran student population...

Segment Synopsis: JB says that before August 2009 the Montgomery GI Bill, which wasn't good, was used. Since the Post 9/11 Bill UW system has seen a large jump because most veterans can be accepted. At UW-Madison JB references, only about a third that apply are accepted. The reason for the lag is that Madison is still waiting for the population that was unable to get in immediately to be able to transfer. Bechtol says that they should start to see those effects in the next year or so. He says that staying connected with those students however, isn't particularly feasible. He does reference a connection with MATC, however there are benefits for both schools. Whereas UW- La Crosse might not be as receptive.

Keywords: admissions standards; Madison Area Technical College; MATC; Montgomery GI Bill; Post-9/11 GI Bill; preferred admissions; student veterans; transfer students; university admissions; UW-Eau Claire; UW-La Crosse; UW-Whitewater; veterans benefits

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63:47 - Campus programs are more beneficial than state or federal programs

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Partial Transcript: We've talked about communication with the other schools and kind of like a sharing...

Segment Synopsis: JB says more federal or state programs aren't needed. He says all that is needed is someone responsible for veterans on every campus, besides the VA certifying official. However he says, sadly this is generally who schools reference as their veterans specialist. He says he likes that in Illinois a law was just passed that requires every university with a population over 1,000 needs a veterans official. JB says that he sees himself as that person at UW-Madison, and is willing to take on the responsibility.

Keywords: federal programs; state programs; student affairs; student veterans; transfer students; VA certification; veterans affairs

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67:45 - Future improvements for UW student veterans

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Partial Transcript: Okay, with my last question-- What do you think should be improved on this campus?

Segment Synopsis: JB again references the Yellow Ribbon Program. He would also like to see a Veterans Center on campus. Putting everything in the same place would make things easier for staff and the veterans. He is optimistic about the Veteran Transitions class, and a Veterans Crisis Loan started by a local VFW post. He would also like to see an increase in veteran graduate student connections. Also military dependents have yet to be included into the procedures.

Keywords: dean of students; graduate school; graduate students; military dependents; student veterans; UW Foundation; veterans affairs; veterans benefits; Veterans Crisis Loan; Veterans of Foreign Wars; Veterans Transition course; VFW; Yellow Ribbon Program

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71:46 - End of Interview

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