New center helps veterans transition to college life
November 30, 2010 8:16 PM
For many college-age members of the Army, the promise of education after tours overseas is a quintessential light at the end of the tunnel. This semester, student veterans at SF State finally have a center to help ensure that they reach their goals in the classroom and beyond.
SF State opened its Veterans Services Center on Nov. 10 as part of California's Troops to College mandate with the intent of providing a space on campus where veterans can seek counsel and start or transfer their educational benefits.
"A lot of new enlistees are going into the military for the educational benefits," said the center's Veteran's Association Certifying Official Rogelio Manaois. "Now, veterans are going to schools they never could have afforded before because of the G.I. Bill. We're making sure that this population that has a unique background is getting all of the services available to them."
The center, located in room 206 of the Student Services Building, offers a wide variety of resources including pre-admission counseling, health services, and educational benefits guidance.
Twenty-four-year-old SF State international relations major Caleb Pearson served a year in Iraq in the Army from 2004-2005. He is graduating this semester and with no other financial support, his education has been the direct result of educational benefits following his time overseas.
"I wanted to serve my country, travel, and get the experience, (but) I joined the military ultimately to pay for college," Pearson said. "So, my educational benefits were a top priority."
Like many student veterans, Pearson relies on the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009 and provides coverage of tuition, housing and additional educational expenses for servicemen and women returning to school after at least 90 days of active duty after 2001.
Additionally, California's Troops to College initiative was enacted in 2006 to make the UC, CSU and community colleges more accessible to veterans and the Veterans Center is a product of that mandate.
This semester, about 400 SF State student veterans and more than 400 of their dependents received G.I. benefits and that number continues to grow.
Beyond that, there are more than 100 students on campus who are veterans but do not receive benefits, although they can access the services at the Veterans Center.
President of the SF State Veterans Club Young Nguyen, 24, said the center is a long time coming and is particularly essential for veterans who often are unable to relate to others on campus.
"It's important for student veterans to have their own place because we are such a small population," said Nguyen, a former Marine. "The general student population don't understand veteran issues and they can't relate. (The center) is important because it provides camaraderie and a social support structure to ensure student vets' success in school."
According to SF State Veterans Services Coordinator Ernest Scosseria, nearly 100 percent of student veterans on campus are transfer students, and the Bay Area is particularly attractive to men and women returning from active duty.
"We only have about one or two true (veteran) freshmen and one of the things that attracts veterans is our zip code," Scosseria said.
With the steep property values in the Bay Area, veterans and their dependents receive a much higher basic housing allowance than most other areas, according to Scosseria. Under the bill, the BAH is allotted to student veterans as if they were active duty members based on the zip code of the school they attend.
Like most student veterans, Pearson attended different community colleges before transferring to SF State. He said that while most community colleges offer a military veteran counselor or liaison, counselors were often inadequate and insensitive to veterans' unique backgrounds and needs, specifically when dealing with G.I. benefits.
"It was as if working with veterans was an extra duty that (counselors) didn't want to do," Pearson said. "In the military, I was taught to be a jarhead, and then you get out of the military and right into the classroom (which) can be hard for a lot of people."
The Veterans Center is the realization of a statewide push to ease the transition from military life to the classroom. There is still work to be done, however.
The SF State Veterans Club currently uses the new center but is still looking for a dedicated space for its roughly 30-member club, according to Nguyen.
In addition, Manaois said veterans are often unable to immediately access their benefit funds when making the initial change from the battlefield to college classrooms.
"There's a bit of a lag time between students receiving money and being able to live day-to-day," Manaois said. "There needs to be some kind of funding to bridge the gap."
The Veterans Center will host "Every Day is Veterans Day" in Jack Adams Hall Jan. 13 for student veterans enrolling in fall 2011.
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