Caleb S. Cage: Student veterans get, deserve our help
March 3, 2013
As I have written about before, we primarily manage three programs at the Nevada Office of Veterans Services: the Nevada State Veterans Home, the Veterans Memorial Cemeteries in Fernley and Boulder City, and our Veterans Advocacy and Support Team throughout the state. But by virtue of being the state’s veteran services agency, we also work in many other areas where we don’t have programs in order to ensure that Nevada’s veterans’ needs are met to the highest degree possible. One of those areas that is becoming increasingly important in our efforts is veterans in higher education.
One of the most common avenues to higher education for a veteran is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is probably one of the most generous federal VA benefits in generations. For a relatively small amount of military service, this benefit provides financial support for education as well as living expenses for veterans with an honorable discharge. It is also available for veterans to pursue training, licensing and other certifications, and in some cases it can be extended to family members.
But even with a benefit as valuable as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, there are still needs that need to be addressed. How do we assist veterans to assimilate back into civilian society as well as into campus life? How do we bridge the experience gap between the veterans and their peers, or their professors? Benefits like the Post-9/11 GI Bill ensure access to Nevada’s educational opportunities, but how do we ensure success for students who have often times been out of the classroom for four years or more?
These are difficult questions, but the good news is that many people and organizations have been trying to answer them for close to a decade now, if not longer.
We have been working with the various service providers within the higher education community for some time now, but we have recently engaged more seriously through the Green Zone Initiative. Through several convenings, as well as Gov. Brian Sandoval appointing a member of the chancellor’s cabinet to his Interagency Council on Veterans Affairs, we have greatly increased our ability to reach and serve the student veteran population. The time is right to do so, as so many veterans are returning from recent military service and expected future military downsizing and are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Through those organizations and others, we have come across amazing recommendations and studies that we are trying to carry forward and implement – many of which have deep connections to Nevada. One of those studies came out of the University of Nevada, Reno, and a group called the University Veterans Coalition. The coalition exists to accomplish many goals, but chief among them are facilitating student veterans’ transition to college, joining the university with the broader community in our efforts to serve, integrate, and understand veterans, and fostering and supporting interdisciplinary research on veterans.
One of their efforts that accomplishes all of those goals is the recent study titled “Student Veterans Speak Up: A Focus Group Study,” written by Dr. Carlene Gonzalez and Dr. Marta Elliott. Their report, which can be found on their website, is based on focus groups of students and results in several important recommendations. The study recommends adequate staff for Veterans Services offices at Nevada’s colleges and universities; mental health professionals at student counseling centers; that veterans be allowed to attend separate new-student orientation sessions; that veterans be allowed to receive academic credit for their military service; and that institutional faculty be offered seminars on veterans and military culture. It is truly a remarkable study, and one that is significantly ahead of many similar efforts around the country. The recommendations also delve deeper on many of the higher education recommendations that came out of the Green Zone Initiative, which will ensure that our efforts will coincide for the foreseeable future.
Locally, Western Nevada College has a tremendous offering for student veterans as well. Aside from their commitment to the “Always Lost” program, which I have written about before, they also provide assistance to veterans through their Veterans Services Office, their Veteran Certifying Officials, student veteran organizations, and more. President Lucey has shown a personal dedication to serving the veterans of Northern Nevada through the college, and we look forward to continuing to work with them and share their ideas with other institutions. As I wrote before, this is one of the most generous VA benefits in generations, and we are trying to make sure that veterans are capable of taking advantage of this great opportunity.
• Caleb S. Cage is the executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. You can read his blog at http://veterans.nv.gov/blog.