"Dave, that’s great we have a veterans center, they really need our help."
These were the words of a professor friend of mine, I’ll call her Laura. She meant no harm, but it struck me that a veterans center could be perceived as a help center filled with broken humans. Veterans are hardly a victims group but it occurred to me that her comment likely represented a simple lack of understanding of the veteran community.
This is perfectly understandable since we, as veterans, represent a tiny percentage of the general population. I returned to Laura’s office later that day and we had a great dialogue on what a veterans center is and why school’s need one. The highlight of this conversation focused on the three primary missions of a veteran services office, itself a place of leadership and community organization.
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A veterans services office provides a central point of support to a student segment who volunteered themselves to national service prior to attending college. The United States invested in the success of student veterans and this office is designed to help achieve that mission. Support can take many shapes (for example, academic tutoring or career transition workshops). The office is also available in the event that a student is struggling and needs counseling of any variety. The veterans services staff will get that student the applicable resource. There are three main entities that make up a successful veteran services office.
Veterans Director (VD)
The campus leader. He or she has the responsibility of representing student veterans needs to campus leadership and community. The VD defines the strategy of the office. His or her main job is advocating and allocating resources on behalf of the students.
Certifying Official (CO)
The certifying official is the expert on VA education benefits. To quote a student of mine, “He makes sure my tuition gets paid.” Well said. This is a big responsibility and navigating the VA system on behalf of the students is a full time job.
Student veterans are committed to service and camaraderie is a big deal. One of the most exciting things I see on campuses is the leadership role that student veterans are able to take on. Student Veterans of America (SVA) provides a powerful playbook to student based leadership on campuses. Student veterans are supporting each other’s success via peer mentorship programs and they’re organizing community service via team efforts.
The days of boozy, smoke filled VFW rooms as the images of veterans is long gone. Veterans services offices are full of scholars and community leaders. In my opinion, every college should have a veterans services for the mere fact that veterans have earned it. But the real reason is that when a college invests in a veterans office, the return far surpasses the investment. Campuses gain a great deal of diversity and worldview by embracing this important student population.