Beck Hannaford: Veterans on BSU's campus are his business
Reprinted by permission of
The Star Press.
By JOHN CARLSON
Beck Hannaford bears minimal resemblance to the fabled Uncle Sam, but for military veterans who attend or are interested in attending Ball State University, his message is the same as the one conveyed in those legendary pointed-finger posters.
He wants you.
More specifically, he wants you to come see him in the Veterans Benefits office in Lucina Hall.
"My job is a little like a traffic cop," said the dapper-looking Veterans Benefits Certifying Official. "If somebody comes to me with a request or a problem, I try to direct them to someone who can help."
As Hannaford talked, a bearded young man named Brandon Forte, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, did some desk work nearby. When a soft-spoken Wesley Clark appeared in the doorway wearing a ragged Gators baseball cap, Hannaford asked Forte to escort the former Marine, who served two tours in Iraq, to a nearby office to help facilitate his enrollment in the university.
They were back in just minutes.
"It means a lot," said Clark, who last set foot on campus back in 2002, when asked about Hannaford's assistance on veterans-related school matters. "It was really important to find somebody like Beck to help handle those issues for me. ... It's changed a lot."
A self-described "Burris rat" whose father taught economics here, Hannaford noted his family has now been associated with the university for four generations.
"I've always gotten up in the morning thinking Ball State grads can save the world," said the official, who holds degrees from Wabash College and BSU, and who spent 20 years with the university's Business Affairs office.
While not a veteran himself, Hannaford also has a unique military connection to BSU. Back when it was a dormitory, the building in which he now works was his mother's residence hall. She met his father as he marched across BSU's adjacent, grassy quad while training as an officer candidate after the start of World War ll.
Having taken over Veterans Benefits in May 2008, the former insurance agent has recruited "campus partners" among the university's department heads to work with vets and their families, serving as liaisons to admissions, career services, financial aid and other offices. The goal, he added, is twofold: To be sure each veteran and their family members receive the money they are due, and to help them graduate.
But there's also a third thing.
"We try and build a community," he explained, noting that an upcoming bowling night here was an example of how they accomplish this. Cost of the bowling and other such expenses, by the way, are paid from a $15,000 Lilly grant that Hannaford sought for his office and was awarded.
Helping the Honor Guard
In taking on this work, Hannaford has come to consider it more than a job.
"I tell people this is my first opportunity to serve," he said, adding that his concern for veterans has grown to include another group -- the Delaware County Honor Guard.
Its 12 members attend and officiate at 150 veterans' funerals a year, paying their own way to the memorial services. Hannaford is coordinating a Veterans Helping Veterans fund-raising effort to help financially support the honor guard.
"There's nothing I'd love to do more than give every one of those 12 guys a $100 gas card," Hannaford said, adding that anyone wishing to make a donation can call him at 285-5736.
As for those younger veterans following in the older veterans' footsteps, he noted they have a significant financial impact on the university. There are now 364 veterans and their family members on campus, 116 of whom have been deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The benefits paid to those folks, plus tuition payments, amount to $2.1 million a year.
"It's kind of a million a semester," he said, "so it's big business."
It's also bringing some great students to the university.
"When they come back from the military," he said, "they are highly successful academically."
Their numbers are also growing. Last year, veterans and their families on campus totaled only 201.
"We might have 400 in January," Hannaford said. "Who knows where we might end up? We could have 500 vets and families on campus one of these days. ... We're in the veterans business for the long haul."
One of those young veterans, of course, was Clark, a soon-to-be psychology major, who got a lot done on his quick visit, then left with Hannaford's best advice for completing his enrollment, plus four quick words of encouragement.
"Nice to have you," he told the former Marine.