UT Austin sees rise in veterans as new law supports massive growth

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new bill that went into effect this week aims to help veterans and their families across Texas. Senate Bill 1158 specifically deals with higher education. One thing it will do is fund regional coordinators throughout the state to work with veterans and family members attending college. In the past few years, there’s been an uptick of veterans in Texas, and colleges and universities are seeing that growth.

Ben Armstrong, director of Student Veteran Services with UT Austin, says the state understood that this increase was happening and says these resources will be helpful to campuses across the state. From 2008 to 2014, UT Austin alone saw a more than 700 percent increase in veterans and their family members attending school.

None of these veterans has the same story, and each face their own challenges after they’ve served in the military.

“I retired out of the Navy after 26 years, I worked in operations and intelligence,” says UT Austin student, David Lessenberry.

“I was in the Army, I was stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the 82nd,” says another UT student, Matthew McKee. “When you’re a teacher and look out across a crowd of students, and you see a beard, you can obviously tell you’re not the conventional student.”

Student Veteran Services at UT Austin gives these veterans a place to turn. The new legislation now in effect will expand services statewide.

“We’re definitely not 18 to 20-something year olds, so it’s a little harder to relate to people. Here, it’s a hub to meet people that went through the same, similar situations you did,” said McKee.

“It’s really important to know there’s a resource you can go talk to, someone who understands the challenges your having,” said Lessenberry.

The bill also transfers the tuition exemption program for veterans family members from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to the Texas Veterans Commission. Armstrong says the largest benefit for students and the university is it moves the benefit under a state agency efficient in governing veteran’s benefits. The Texas Veterans Commission has experience and a greater knowledge of serving veterans and their diverse needs.

Additionally, the bill creates a veteran education excellence recognition award to honor institutions for their work providing veterans education and services.

So while the road ahead may not always be easy, veterans on campuses across Texas won’t be on that road alone.

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