Richland event aims to help veterans get back to work

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 11, 2014 

RICHLAND -- Ken Curtis of Richland was left to figure out his military education benefits by "trial and error" after he left the Air Force.

Curtis, 38, a senior at Washington State University Tri-Cities, previously attended Walla Walla Community College, spending much of his time making sure he received G.I. Bill benefits.

"I'm still learning stuff about the benefits," he said. "It's really kind of a big bureaucratic mess looking at all the programs."

Helping veterans navigate education and vocational programs is the reason the Walla Walla Veterans Affairs Medical Center is playing host to the Veterans' Boots to Books and Jobs event Monday, said Janice Kusch, program manager for the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, or VITAL, program.

The VA is partnering with WSU Tri-Cities and Columbia Basin College.

"If you have that information early on, you can make better decisions about the efficient use of your benefits," said Kusch, who works out of the VA's Richland clinic. "You don't want to run out of benefits before you find that out."

The event will feature speakers from the state and federal veterans affairs departments, as well as WSU Tri-Cities and WorkSource Columbia Basin. They are expected to address topics including educational and training programs for disabled veterans, programs for post-Sept. 11 veterans and classes for veterans looking for jobs.

Organizers hope it will show veterans which classes will be beneficial to them, said VA clinical psychologist Steven Malone.

"The service men and service women, they already know how to set goals, they already have discipline and perseverance, but transferring those skills over to the academic world many times is difficult," he said.

A door prize -- a high-definition Amazon Kindle electronic book reader -- will be offered to veterans. Kusch said 1,000 invitations have been sent out for the event, but any veteran is welcome.

The event would have been beneficial to Curtis when he came off active duty, though things have ended up working out for him, he said. After initially considering being a professional diver and golf pro, he is majoring in biological sciences and preparing to go to medical school.

So far, the G.I. Bill has paid Curtis' way through school, he said. The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill even provides benefits for training some might not expect, like flight school.

"From what I've seen from engineering students, the G.I. Bill comes close, but doesn't quite cover it," he said. "For most other degree programs, the G.I. Bill is enough."

The event is from 5:15-6:30 p.m. Monday at the WSU Tri-Cities east auditorium, 2710 Crimson Way in Richland.

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