After serving six years in the U.S. Army, including five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Cole Moses knew that the transition to academic life – as an MBA student at Stanford Graduate School of Business – would be tough.

Dustin Noll, specialist in the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities, standing outside his office

Dustin Noll is a specialist in Stanford’s Office for Military-Affiliated Communities. The office’s primary role is managing the administration of educational benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Still, even before he arrived on campus Moses knew he could rely on two organizations for assistance and friendship: the Stanford GSB Veterans Club and the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities (OMAC), the nexus for all things military at Stanford.

“When I arrived at Stanford, those two organizations immediately helped me form connections with people that I had a lot in common with and that made me feel more at home,” said Moses, who is now in his second – and final – year of the MBA program.

“The fact that Stanford thought that the veterans community was important enough to create OMAC in the first place made me feel very comfortable,” he said. “I knew there were people here who had my back and were willing to look out for me during my transition.”

OMAC, which opened in September 2014, is one of several initiatives the university launched on behalf of students and others with military affiliations during John L. Hennessy’s tenure as president. Stanford restored credits for ROTC classes in 2011.

The Hoover Institution has long welcomed the nation’s senior-most military and government officials to campus to conduct independent research as fellows on topics relevant to their respective branches of government and to the practice of diplomacy. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who was appointed last week as National Security Advisor, was a visiting fellow at Hoover at the time of his appointment, and a 2002-03 National Security Affairs Fellow. Gen. James Mattis, who is now serving as U.S. Secretary of Defense, was also a visiting fellow at Hoover at the time of his appointment.

Hennessy, who stepped down as Stanford’s president in the summer of 2016 and is now the Shriram Family Director of the new Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, said three clear and articulate perspectives shaped the university’s thoughts and approach.

“We recognized the importance of having a well-educated military,” Hennessy said, adding that William J. Perry, a professor emeritus of Stanford and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, spoke compellingly about that issue, saying that many distinguished leaders, including himself, came from the ranks of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“We realized that many members of the Stanford community didn’t know anyone in active military service, a situation that David Kennedy, a professor emeritus of Stanford, had forcibly argued was harmful for the country,” Hennessy continued. “Finally, our students rightly said that most students would benefit from knowing someone involved in military service, because their presence would add to the diversity of our student body and the educational opportunities that diversity created.”

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, whose parents served in the Canadian military, said he intends to continue the augmented efforts by Hennessy.

“I am committed to supporting our many veteran students, faculty and staff members, and to extending John’s initiatives,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “My parents are both veterans. My mother obtained her college degree after serving in the military and raising her family. So assisting our returning veterans is especially meaningful to me.”

Currently, there are 140 veterans and active-duty service members attending Stanford, including 21 undergraduates and 119 graduate students. During the last four years, Stanford has accepted 24 transfer students and one first-year student who are veterans. In addition, there are 12 undergraduate students enrolled in ROTC programs. There are numerous staff and faculty veterans also at Stanford, though the university does not formally track their numbers.

OMAC – Nexus for all things military at Stanford

OMAC’s primary role is managing the administration of educational benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The office serves as the liaison between Stanford, its undergraduate and graduate students and the federal agency.

The office, located on the second floor of Tresidder Memorial Union, also coordinates academic, social and cultural programs designed for military-affiliated communities, and helps faculty identify research funding that offers academic opportunities for veterans.

Veteran and law student Benjamin E. Haas, studying at the Law School.

Law student Benjamin E. Haas, an Army veteran, says the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities makes managing VA educational benefits easy. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Dustin Noll, OMAC’s specialist, said the office defines “military-affiliated communities” broadly. In addition to American veterans and active-duty service members, OMAC is ready to engage with international students who served in their country’s military, staff who work closely with veterans and service members, faculty who teach veterans, individuals with close family members who served in the military and people who simply want to connect with members of Stanford’s military community.

“If you have a connection to the military, you probably have some understanding of what that service means – how it can shape lives, how it can change lives, how it can pull lives in directions you didn’t expect,” said Noll, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “If there’s something we can do for you, or if you have a unique perspective on military service and you want to spin that up into programming, we’re interested in hearing your idea.”

One of Noll’s chief responsibilities is applying and managing VA educational benefits for each and every Stanford student who uses those benefits.

Benjamin Haas, an Army veteran now in his second year at Stanford Law School, said Noll’s expertise on that subject is invaluable.

“I gave Dustin a document certifying that I was eligible for educational benefits and he took it from there,” said Haas, who is co-president of the Stanford Law Veterans Organization, which welcomes veterans as soon as they are accepted into the school. “He is 100 percent on top of the GI Bill. From that perspective, he makes life easy.”

Expanding programs for veterans

In recent years, Stanford has expanded academic, social and cultural programs for students with military affiliations, including undergraduates enrolled in ROTC, transfer students – most of whom joined the Stanford community as juniors – and graduate students.

In 2010, Stanford established the Military Service as Public Service project, which is dedicated to recognizing and supporting the distinctive public service contributions of students with military affiliations. OMAC collaborates with the project to host events for members of the military and their families, and for the entire Stanford community.

The two organizations recently sponsored “Military Medicine: Serving Those Who Serve,” a panel discussion featuring four doctors – veterans all – affiliated with Stanford Medicine. The event, held at the Li Ka Shing Center, attracted about 50 people.

In 2012, Stanford began offering activity and academic credit for the ROTC courses that its students take at other Bay Area universities to fulfill their military training requirements.

(Stanford had terminated academic credit for ROTC courses in 1970, and by 1973 had phased out its Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs. In 2011, Stanford initiated conversations with various branches of the U.S. military about the possibility of reestablishing an ROTC program on campus. At the time, the military said budgetary and logical reasons prevented them from establishing ROTC programs at Stanford.)

To remove the financial burden of traveling to military training classes, Stanford provides stipends – and Zipcars – to ROTC students for commuting to the University of California, Berkeley, San Jose State University and Santa Clara University.

In recent years, Stanford has also established programs for non-student veterans.

During the summer, the university hosts Stanford 2 to 4 Veteran Accelerator, a summer program designed to help recent U.S. military veterans develop important academic skills needed to thrive at four-year institutions. Since 2014, when Stanford launched the program, 42 veterans have participated. Each summer, it accepts 15 to 20 students.

The Graduate School of Business also offers a summer program for recent U.S. veterans, Stanford Ignite – Post-9/11 Veterans, which is designed to bolster their know-how about innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as support their transition to civilian life.

New financial aid policy benefits veterans

At the suggestion of an undergraduate veteran, Stanford recently changed the way it considers the housing allowance provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs when determining eligibility for need-based undergraduate scholarship funds – a change that allows students to retain as much as $10,000 of the allowance for other expenses.

Stanford’s generous need-based financial aid program allows veterans to choose to save their VA benefits for graduate education if that will be most beneficial to them. The Financial Aid Office helps students and families understand their personalized options. When a student chooses to use their benefits as an undergraduate, those benefits are coordinated with Stanford scholarship funds to ensure the student’s full need is met.

At Stanford, the most commonly used VA education benefits program is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provides funding for tuition, required fees, books and housing. Veterans are free to use the benefits for up to 15 years after they leave the military – for themselves or they may transfer their benefits to a spouse or dependents.

In the past, Stanford awarded need-based scholarship funds only after considering the full amount of VA tuition and fees benefits, including the Yellow Ribbon Program match, and the full amount of VA housing allowance and book benefits.

“Beginning with the 2016-17 academic year, we will only consider the amount of the monthly housing allowance that equals the room and board expenses in your cost of attendance (as displayed on the award letter) in our calculation of eligibility,” wrote Richard H. Shaw, dean of admission and financial aid in a November 2016 letter to the Stanford veterans community. “The remaining amount of the monthly housing allowance may be used as you see fit.”

The VA’s housing allowance is about $10,000 higher than the standard cost of undergraduate room and board at Stanford.

Shaw said the university made the change in consultation with members of the Stanford veterans community and others who support veterans on campus.

In the letter, Shaw referred students to the VA Benefits and Yellow Ribbon Program page on Stanford’s financial aid website. He urged student veterans to contact the Financial Aid Office for one-on-one help to discuss the impact of the policy on their specific situations.

While the change affects only a few undergraduates, OMAC’s Noll said veterans welcomed the decision.

“It provides more options for veterans to manage their often complex financial situations when they make the transition to study at Stanford,” he said.

Noll said the VA’s housing allowance is not need or merit-based aid, but an allotment veterans earned through their service that was designed to cover the wide range of unique living expenses veterans might face, including the cost of moving families to campus.

Shaw closed the letter with a personal thank you: “Each of you is a valued addition to the Stanford community, both in and out of the classroom. I look forward to continuing to work with the veterans’ community on campus to improve your experience.”