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WASHINGTON — Soon veterans arriving on college campuses may find a fully staffed veterans’ center waiting to help them address any problems with GI Bill benefits or military health care.

The Department of Education will receive $6 million next year to help fund “Centers of Excellence for Veterans Success” at campuses across the country, as part of the compromise federal budget bill unveiled by congressional leaders this week.

Veterans groups hailed the move as an important resource in light of the growing number of veterans headed to college under the revamped GI Bill, and the numerous problems with the benefits program that have resulted.

“The goal here is to provide a one-stop office for all veterans who come to campus,” said Ray Kelley, national legislative director for AMVETS. “They can help process claims. They can give them orientation if they missed that. They can get tutoring help for veterans.”

The new GI Bill that went into effect in August guarantees four years of tuition at state universities plus housing and book stipends. But thousands of veterans waited months for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process their reimbursement checks for the fall semester, and some have yet to receive their first payment.

Kelley, whose group has lobbied for the centers in recent years, said had the offices been in place this fall they could have provided up-to-date info on veterans claims and helped distribute $3,000 emergency checks issued by the VA to help pay bills during the processing snafu.

Officials from Student Veterans of America also backed the new centers, saying a central office could bolster efforts to create stronger ties among veterans on campus, which in turn could help make the transition from battlefield to classroom easier.

The $6 million program is designed as a pilot for 2010, with requesting schools receiving grants of up to $200,000 to establish and staff the new centers.

Congress is expected to give final approval to the budget bill next week, clearing the way for the president to sign it into law by the end of the month.


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