AARP, UA work to provide resources for veterans


U.S. Air Force retired veteran Bradley Campbell is a UA senior majoring in operations management is one of the many campus veterans affected by recent changes made by the University in partnership with AARP. CW/ Keely Brewer

Jeffrey Kelly, Contributing Writer

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) of Alabama and The University of Alabama’s Office for Military Families and Veterans have teamed up to study the needs of Alabama’s older military veterans so AARP can better connect them to the relevant resources and services they need.

The study will focus on issues such as behavioral health, caregiving, food insecurity and homelessness for veterans in Alabama, and the results are expected to be reported this fall from AARP.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, as of 2017, there are 369,962 military veterans in Alabama, and of that number, 160,742 are 65 and older. According to the Housing Assistance Council’s Veterans Data Central, 7.8 percent of Alabama’s veterans live in poverty. The study on AARP and The University of Alabama could potentially decrease that number.

While AARP is working diligently to help the lives of older military veterans, the University is also working hard to take care of the 642 student veterans on campus.

“[Student veterans] have a unique set of needs because they are coming from a military culture to civilian life,” said Alex Bynum, assistant director of logistics in the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs. Bynum said for veterans, financial support is an enormous priority.

“We serve about 700 veterans, and the average age is 28, so there is a population of those that have children, that have mortgages, that have car payments, that are at a different financial level than other students,” she said.  

Bynum said due to this, the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs offers many resources such as emergency loans, free office textbook rentals, one-day early textbook checkout so they can get what they need before military dependents, free printing and the student veteran contingency fund.

“The student veteran contingency fund is something we raise money for through the 5K we do in the fall and the pavers we sell outside,” Bynum said. “So that when there is an emergency, our office can endow a scholarship to that student to go on their student account, and they get it back.”

Bynum said the office has had students whose cars have broken down in the middle of the road while trying to go to drill, and the contingency fund has been phenomenal with those types of situations, her office responding to the needs of the student veterans immediately.

“There are a lot of pluses [to the Veteran and Military Affairs Office],” said Bradley Campbell, a 55-year-old retired Air Force veteran and a senior majoring in operations management. “The center here is like a one-stop shop.”

Campbell said he has seen other student veterans suffering from the same issues that AARP is studying at other institutions.

“I was in another university before Alabama, and they had veterans in their cars waiting on their checks,” he said. “It was bad. UA has a program to where the University allows us to sign up for a pay program because they know sometimes our checks are delayed, so that’s another thing that UA does that is a huge positive.”

The University and AARP are both doing extensive work to help support military veterans, even though some younger and older veterans don’t even know it.

“I did not know about the partnership between UA and the AARP,” said Sterling Dozier, a freshman finance and economics major who is an interior electrician in the Army Reserve.

Dozier said after hearing about it, he thinks what AARP is doing is an excellent thing.

“I know a little bit about [AARP] but not a lot,” Campbell said. “I think everyone knows something about them.”

Bynum said veterans will take advantage of more opportunities if they know what resources are provided for them.

“I think information is power, and the more information about the resources and services that veterans are aware of, the more opportunity they will take advantage of,” Bynum said.  “If they know about it, they can grasp those resources, and a lot of it is just up to them to find, and I think that is an unfair advantage because when they were in the military, they were told exactly what to do and they had no choices, no options. You just did what the military told you to do.”

Bynum said the first hurdle for veterans is knowing the resources and services available to them as younger and older veterans make the transition from being in military culture to civilian life.

“Then they say, ‘Well now join civilian life’ where you have to do all the options, and so putting it in front of their faces and helping them know these are the resources for them, they’ll take advantage of it if they know about it,” she said.

Bynum said she is a proponent for anything that provides more information to the student veteran population.

“Education benefits are changing, and laws are changing almost yearly,” she said. “So having current knowledge is important, and a partnership with AARP is a great thing.”