BOISE — Several Idaho lawmakers were concerned that an expiring federal grant might mean cuts in veterans services at Boise State University, and after a meeting with BSU President Marlene Tromp on Friday, they learned all services still will be covered.
“They basically have figured out a way to I think not only maintain services, but probably improve them,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise. “She was open and gracious, and she has personal understanding of veterans’ needs from her own family. And I think she’s well committed to it.”
Marv Hagedorn, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, who joined Winder, Tromp and BSU officials at the hourlong meeting Friday, said, “I felt very comfortable, and I think Sen. Winder felt very comfortable when we left the meeting, and so did the president. … I was impressed with her credentials and her background and her passion.”
A federal grant that paid for recruiting of veteran students and academic support services recently expired, BSU spokesman Greg Hahn said in a statement after the meeting. BSU is still going to actively recruit Idaho veterans, he said.
“We have also trained our more than 70 professional academic advisors and our team of career advisors on how to best serve the veterans they work with,” Hahn said. “At the same time, we are focusing new resources on an issue of great importance to veteran services — boosting our ability to help them navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy of their education benefits.”
Hagedorn said numerous lawmakers had been hearing concerns from local veterans about the grant expiring. On Friday, he sent an email to all those who had contacted him letting them know that the services are covered.
“Sen. Winder and I decided, well, let’s just go in and find out what’s going on,” he said.
Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, a retired Army colonel, sent a letter to Tromp on July 18 inquiring about the expiring grant and the staffing question.
“With around or over 1,000 veterans in attendance at Boise State, bringing in about $9 million dollars to Boise State, I think we ought to be able to find a way to replace that money,” Syme wrote. “Boise State has the largest number of veterans of any Idaho university by far.”
He added, “Perhaps you could scale back on paying to provide special treatment for various groups and use that money to bolster Veterans Services.”
That was a reference to an earlier letter to Tromp from Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, with 27 House GOP co-signers, criticizing BSU’s diversity and inclusion programs. Syme, who couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday, wasn’t among the letter’s co-signers.
Winder said he also has questions about diversity and inclusion programs, but didn’t bring them up during Friday’s meeting with Tromp. “I just felt like we were focused on the veterans, and I didn’t want to distract the conversation,” he said.
Hahn, in his statement, said, “Boise State continuously seeks sustainable and creative ways to increase support for all students.”
VETERAN SERVICES AT BSU
Hagedorn said the two positions whose funding changed were responsible for certifications that veteran students need for their GI bill and other benefits.
“That has to be done monthly, certifying that the student is still there and going to classes and making the right grades,” he said. “So they have covered that with some other folks now. So that certification process, we were told, is going to happen appropriately, and we shouldn’t see any issues when school starts back up again.”
Boise State has a large contingent of students who are veterans — close to 11% of the student body, Hagedorn said.
“Their veterans student office takes care of a lot of things, not only transitioning issues that veterans might have, but also certifying paperwork for their GI bill, so the VA (Veterans Administration) can pay them their GI Bill benefits while they’re going to school,” he said. Those benefits cover tuition and living costs for military veterans completing their education.
“Those education and GI bill benefits mean about $53 million to the state every year,” Hagedorn said, not just at BSU but statewide, including on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.
Hagedorn and Winder said they were impressed with Tromp’s personal commitment to veterans, including her own family ties; she’s the daughter of a World War II veteran and has a nephew who is in the military.
“We got a brief on all the stuff they’re doing on campus to try and provide services to the veterans,” Winder said.
Among those, Hahn said, is a new “Military Promise” tuition assistance plan, which buys down the cost of tuition for active duty, guard and reserve students so with their federal reimbursement, tuition is essentially free.
Tromp discussed her earlier work on veterans issues at Arizona State University, which Hagedorn said had some strong similarities to work he’s done here to help disabled veterans returning to school with the nonprofit Wyakin Warrior Foundation.
“It was good to meet her, understand her background,” Hagedorn said. “She had done some very interesting things at ASU.”