November 29, 2022 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
The transition from military to civilian life conjures up many questions about the future in regard to finances, family, and more, and a new course through Liberty University’s Center for Professional and Continuing Education hopes to answer some of those questions. “Financial Literacy for Transitioning Veterans” is a non-credit, self-paced course designed specifically for service members who plan to retire soon or have already done so and are looking for financial advice.
Through the 4–6-hour course, students can learn how to maximize salary negotiations, understand taxable income requirements, determine salary requirements necessary to maintain their current standard of living, weigh the pros and cons of defense contracting, and plan for their families’ needs. All topics are grounded in biblical principles.
The subject matter expert for the course is retired Army Master Sgt. Willard Gunzelman, an adjunct professor with the School of Business who served 25 years with the U.S. Army special forces, more commonly known as the Green Berets. Throughout his military career, Gunzelman was sent to the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of Africa, Central America, and parts of Eastern Europe.
When he retired and became a business instructor, Gunzelman realized the need for a resource that could advise veterans and/or active service members about how to plan for retirement or transition out of the military. While he explained that the U.S. military has a transitional course that offers more of a broad overview, Gunzelman said he envisioned a course that would cover certain aspects that deserve more attention, such as choosing where to live based on cost of living and taxes or how to best utilize benefits when entering the civilian workforce.
“I would start talking to the guys I knew, former teammates who were retiring and looking for (civilian) work, and I would start telling them about things to think about,” Gunzelman said. “As we were talking, we kind of came up with the idea for the course. We agreed that I should put something together so that (veterans) can get this information on the front end, not years after they’ve already (left).”
“I developed the course, but I developed it with the input of a lot of my friends who are former service members,” he added. “We want to do right by the next generation. It’s a labor of love.”
Because families and their finances differ, Gunzelman said the course is designed to simply offer tools and advice that individuals can then apply to their unique circumstances.
“It’s not a cookie cutter; everyone’s situation is different,” he said. “There are considerations for family and explanations about biblical principles when it comes to sound financial decisions. What I’m trying to do is provide some data and research that gives the service member the ability to make informed decisions about their career.”
“As the mission of the Center for Financial Literacy is to spread biblical financial wisdom to all University constituents, we are honored to support Dr. Gunzelman in creating this unique course,” said Stacie Rhodes, executive director of the Center for Financial Literacy. “Our goal is to continue to create customized conversations for our diverse student base. This course provides an incredible opportunity to support, encourage, and challenge the veterans we have the privilege of serving.”
While the course can be beneficial at any point, the ideal time is one to two years prior to separation from service.
“We recommend they take this course one to two years prior to leaving the military because it tells them about financial questions to think about, looking for locations and jobs, and ideally you’d want all of those factors figured out before you depart,” said Katherine Holt, director of the Center for Professional and Continuing Education. “But it’s also not a long course, and it’s a helpful tool for veterans of any stage in the career process.”
Those taking the course do not have to be enrolled at Liberty, but there is information at the end of the course that can help connect veterans who wish to pursue a degree at LU.
“I think what I love a lot about this course is that it’s helpful for anyone, whether they’re a part of Liberty or not,” Holt said. “We have resources in the course that can help them reach out to Liberty and its Military Affairs Office.”
Gunzelman added that the course could also be a form of outreach to veterans who do not know Christ or have not been active in their faith.
“What I’m hoping is that someone takes the course, maybe brings the course to another service member who doesn’t know the Lord and may just be starting to walk with the Lord, and they can grow in their faith while taking the course.”