Student face issues receiving VA benefits

Kelley Peters, News Editor

A transition in the Registrar’s office at the University of North Alabama led to issues regarding students receiving Veterans Affairs benefits on time at the beginning of the spring semester.

According to Mitch Powell, UNA’s Interim Registrar, the School Certifying Official position recently moved to be under the Registrar’s Office. The former School Certifying Officer, Doug McClain, left the position at the end of the fall semester. 

“We did not know we were not going to have Doug back until the last day of the fall semester,” said Powell. “When that happened, we began to take steps during the break to see who we could get to fill Doug’s shoes.”

Over the break, Rachel Hill Patterson stepped in and completed the VA certification training to fill the role temporarily. Though McClain had left good records, having to find someone to learn a new position and system meant that there was a possible delay getting students certified to receive their benefits. 

“We knew in advance, our biggest concern was what the impact would be on our students,” Powell said. “Doug had been able to certify some of our students before he left, but not all of them. That was the gap we came into.” 

After posting for the position internally, Madison Moody was hired as the School Certifying Officer and Data Management Specialist. Patterson and Ginger Gatlin serve as backups, learning the system with Moody. 

“To throw this into the mix as well, in this process, the VA changed their certification system,” Powell said. “Now we’re going from VA Once to what’s called VA Enrollment Manager. Madison, Rachel and Ginger all had to go through the new enrollment training, but that’s all done, so now they’re all recognized as School Certifying Officials here at UNA.” 

Now that the certification is complete, Powell does not foresee any more delays in getting students certified. As long as students submit their required documents to Moody on time, the only delays would take place on the VA’s side of the affairs. 

To prevent future issues like this from arising, the Registrar’s Office has granted priority registration for classes to VA students, meaning that they have a head start when getting registered for classes and submitting their information. In addition to this, Moody created a form that compiles all information in one place, making the process of submitting documents more efficient. 

One of the most important things the Registrar’s Office realized during this transition is the necessity of having back-ups for important positions such as Moody’s. 

“We do not want to be in a position where we only have one School Certifying Official,” Powell said. “Moving forward, that will not happen again. That was one thing we learned through this process, that we need to have multiple folks that can fulfill that role for us.” 

The Registrar’s Office extends apologies to all students affected by this transition and the resulting delays. They hope that students feel that the Registrar’s Office is a place they can go to have an open line of communication when facing issues like these.

“We appreciate the service that our veterans have provided for us,” Powell said. “They are a unique group of students who we want to recognize. There are some things that we can control in our processes, and we feel like we have put the measures in place to make sure that it will be very expedient moving forward, so we can reply quickly to students, and we can get their certifications processed quickly.”