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UW-Eau Claire Supports Women Veterans, Survey Finds

RELEASED: April 27, 2009

EAU CLAIRE — Most female military veterans enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are satisfied with the services provided by the university, but many are frustrated by the federal bureaucracy that can make it difficult to receive benefits in a timely manner, according to a recent survey of female veterans on campus.

"A majority of the concerns expressed by survey respondents involved problems with getting their federal benefits," said Nicole Lillis, a senior organizational communication major and U.S. Army veteran who initiated the research project. "Most said they knew where to go for help on campus. Overall, they felt like their needs were being met and they could get the information and support they need here. Their biggest challenges are at the federal level."

When Lillis began her yearlong independent research project in January 2008, she planned to survey all veteran students on campus. She narrowed the project to include only women when she realized how little research had been done — particularly in recent years — about women veterans, said Lillis, a sociology minor who conducted the research under the supervision of her sociology adviser, Dr. Jeremy Hein.

"For a lot of reasons, women have a different experience in the military than men," said Lillis, who is a member of UW-Eau Claire's Veterans Advisory Committee. "My experiences as a female veteran are not the same as the male veterans. Women also have different challenges when we return to civilian life. I wanted to give women a voice. They want to be heard and they deserve to be heard."

While the sample size is small because she focused only women veterans, Lillis' results are credible and consistent with the literature, said Hein, a professor of sociology.

"In fact, the quality of her study was at the master's thesis level and I have encouraged her to pursue her research in graduate school," Hein said of Lillis' research relating to veterans.

Nineteen of the 35 female veteran students she contacted completed an online survey about their experiences on campus as a veteran, said Lillis. She also conducted face-to-face interviews with a number of the students, providing her with more detailed information about the experiences of the women veterans, she said.

"The research shows that the university isn't perfect but people here are responsive and working to make things better," Lillis said. "There is always room for improvement but in general people are satisfied. Most respondents said the Veterans' Office and other campus offices gave them the help they needed, and most said their experiences all over campus have been good."

Many of the veterans did say that having more people on campus who were knowledgeable about the complex state and federal military benefits systems would be helpful, especially as the number of veterans enrolling at the university increases, Lillis said.

"More help with financial issues was the biggest need identified in the survey," Lillis said. "They need help sorting out the benefits and other financial issues. Veterans aren't dealing with the typical kinds of paperwork or financial issues as other students so they need people on campus who know how to help them get through it."

While a veteran's tuition is paid and they receive a monthly living stipend while they are enrolled in college, many have trouble making ends meet if the benefits don't arrive on time, Lillis said. Many veterans also said they often have financial problems during winter and summer breaks because they don't receive benefits during those times, she said.

The survey respondents overwhelmingly supported the creation of a veterans' center on campus, a place where veterans can gather to share information and lend each other support, Lillis said, noting that the Veterans Advisory Committee has been working with UW-Eau Claire administrators for more than six months to establish such a center.

"Veterans are dealing with all kinds of issues from child care to finances to the challenges of relating to students who are not veterans," Lillis said. "The center will help bring together people and resources in a way that will benefit all veterans on campus. It's going to make a world of difference to us to have that center."

Lillis, who will graduate in May, plans to share her research results with the Veterans Advisory Committee during an upcoming meeting.



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