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Career soldier takes the helm of University of Central Oklahoma veterans' programs

EDMOND — When administrators at the University of Central Oklahoma began interviewing for the position of veterans affairs manager they hadn’t formed an exact job description.

“Nobody knew what to do with this office,” said Kennan Horn, who was hired for the job and started work in April.

That was just fine with the 24-year Army veteran.

“I like to operate like that,” Horn said. “Give me mission and intent, and get out of my way.”

UCO had established VetHERO — Veteran Higher Education Resource Office — in 2012 to address the academic, financial, physical and social needs of student veterans.

“They truly were interested in supporting veterans,” Horn said, but there was little oversight of the various projects and programs.

Horn said UCO has more than 700 veterans and their dependents using veterans benefits. He estimates another 100 to 200 are on campus and not using the benefits.

He works to identify veterans and show them how they can maximize their benefits for themselves or their families.

Helping dependents of veterans

Dependents are the fast growing population the office serves. Since 2009, veterans have been able to transfer their GI benefits to dependents, but mom and dad may not know how to do that, Horn said.

Children and spouses of veterans who are 100 percent disabled or who died while in the service also may need help with the benefits due them.

“In the Army, we always looked at the family as part of the team,” said Horn, a retired lieutenant colonel. “We’re going to take care of them as well.”

He said spouses often get the short end of the stick. His wife never got a degree because the family moved 14 times in 24 years. And when it came to Horn’s GI benefits, she wanted them to go to their children.

For that reason, he is working to establish a scholarship for military spouses at UCO. Then he wants to establish one for disabled veterans, who can use up a lot of their benefits overcoming “barriers to learning.”

Connecting with student veterans

Horn’s staff are all veterans or dependents of veterans and all are on a VA work study program. They represent various branches of the military and various circumstances. That helps them connect with the student veterans they assist.

Horn is 90 percent disabled because of an eye disease diagnosed in 2006. He is going blind and cannot drive.

“I loved serving my country,” he said, but by 2010 it was time to retire. “I could no longer deploy.”

Horn spent six of his 24 years in the service on college campuses. He was a recruiting officer for UCO Army ROTC and a professor of military science for the University of Oklahoma Army ROTC.

“Having been on both sides” helps him serve as a buffer between professors and student veterans if problems arise, he said.

And he isn’t alone. Plenty of other faculty and staff members are veterans, he said. Horn is working to identify them by branch of the service so a student who served in the Marine Corps can seek out another Marine to talk to if he wants.

Horn said lots of colleges are offering student veterans a one-stop shop for services, and a few are doing a good job. It’s something that takes time.

“Campuses nationwide are much better than they were 30 or 40 years ago,” Horn said. “This one here is doing great stuff.”

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