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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 24, 2011
Altamont VFW links with Excelsior College to help vets get degrees
By Jo E. Prout
ALTAMONT In an effort to garner new members, Altamont’s Boyd Hilton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post is joining Excelsior College in a program to help veterans get their college degrees.
The program is the first of its kind in the state, and was the brainchild of local VFW auxiliary member Judy Reed, the director of veteran services and outreach with Excelsior College.
“It’s a partnership between the college and a veteran organization,” Reed said, likening the new program to corporate partnerships with reduced tuition for employees.
On March 5, the Boyd Hilton Post will have an Excelsior College representative at its 11 Mill Street headquarters to review veterans’ transcripts and explain the new program. The college offers associate and bachelor degrees, and professional development certificates in fields like home inspection and medical billing. Those who join the local VFW will be eligible for tuition reductions for themselves and their spouses.
Excelsior College, with 30,000 students, was named “Best for Vets” by Military Times Edge magazine, Reed said. All courses are offered online.
Younger vets are tech-savvy, but older veterans usually do well online, Reed said. On the Excelsior College website, veterans can do a sample course to get an idea of how the software works.
“The college takes a lot of [veterans’] military credits,” Reed said, “putting them a lot closer to degrees than many colleges. The reduced tuition and acceptance of military credits…[lets veterans finish] a little quicker than traditional schools.”
Reed, whose husband spent 20 years in the United States Navy, said that Altamont’s post was the first veteran’s organization she spoke to about the program.
“We like it there,” she said. “Post Commander [Dennis] Cyr is a very enthusiastic supporter of education and bringing this partnership to the post.”
The new partnership between Altamont’s VFW post and Excelsior offers veterans who join Altamont’s post a further tuition reduction, beyond that already offered by the college to military families, to veterans and their spouses. The partnership is a way for the post to increase the number of active members, she said.
“They do need some younger members to keep the post alive,” Reed said.
Veterans from some of the military branches receive support on base at the end of their service, but, Reed said, in New York State, a large portion of vets served in the National Guard and have no local base to help them.
“There is not really a lot of support for their military experiences,” Reed said. Help with VA claims, and chances for camaraderie can be hard for new vets to find, she said. “This is a big need in this area, and in New York State,” she said.
Cyr said that younger veterans are not always interested in joining their local posts, but that he encourages them “to take a peek at the VFWs. A lot of people don’t know as much as they should about the VFW,” he said.
“We’re an informational tool for veterans,” Cyr said, adding that the post can help veterans who have questions about VA benefits, raise funds for local charities, or provide camaraderie.
“It’s a community center for our veterans, as well,” Cyr said. “It’s just one of those feel-good things. We donate a lot. We help veterans in need, and families that are in distress.” He added, “A lot of posts are closing down.”
Cyr said that many of the 175 members in Altamont’s post are veterans from earlier eras, but that some served as recently as in Afghanistan. “We’ve got a good mix,” he said. “Everybody just kind of helps each other. It’s a good place. It’s been a good experience for me.”
Cyr served in the Navy in the 1980s, and now owns Mountainview Prosthetics in Knox, which provides prosthetics and orthotic devices for Veterans Administration hospitals nationwide.
“It’s a proud thing to be a member,” Cyr said. “It’s an honorable thing to serve in the services. Veterans and their families give up a lot when members go into the service.”
Joining the VFW costs veterans about $35 per year, or veterans can pay for a lifetime membership that varies according to age.
The March 5 membership drive will welcome new members and offer free educational review for those who attend. Cyr hopes to have an informational event for VA benefits soon, and a partnership similar to that with Excelsior established with the YMCA. The post is in charge of the Memorial Day parade in Altamont this year, and Cyr is working to get local businesses and residents involved.
“We have hall rentals, as well. People drive by and see a building. It’s not just a bar; it’s a whole lot more than that. We try, you know?” Cyr said.
“He’s looking beyond today,” said Reed. “He’s looking to tomorrow."