I’ve written a lot over the past few months about our efforts under the Green Zone Initiative. Through it, we have worked to improve the delivery of services to veterans, service members and their families, and especially so in the focus areas of employment, wellness and higher education.
Although I am proud of our efforts in all three areas, recently, we’ve made strides in the area of higher education.
A few weeks ago, we met on the UNLV campus with key members of the veterans in higher education community. There were certifying officials, directors of veterans services on various campuses, members of the leadership teams from each state college and university, representatives from the Nevada System of Higher Education, and more.
Our goal was to move forward with the recommendations developed through the Green Zone Initiative business case study, as well as plan for further implementation and development.
The organization of our discussion and the recommendations that preceded it were based on two key assumptions. First, that the Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the most generous and significant veteran and family benefits developed in decades.
Further, that even with this tremendous opportunity for access provided to so many of our most recent veterans, there is much that the individual institutions can do to ensure veterans succeed once they’re enrolled on their campuses and in their programs.
The barriers to this success can be great, we have heard many veterans groups say. Nearly all who are eligible for the new GI Bill have been out of the classroom for several years by the time they reapply; they return older, with different life experiences, different worldviews, and sometimes different expectations from the community that they are reintegrating to; they often have young families and other demands on their time that many of their peers do not; and so on.
Through our study and other statewide and national efforts, it has become increasingly clear that there are things that can be done to accommodate this unique population of students.
The good news is that the colleges and universities in the Nevada System of Higher Education are doing some innovative things to empower these students. At our recent conference, representatives from each school had the opportunity to discuss innovations and solutions they were particularly proud of.
Some schools have pursued federal grants such as the Veterans Upward Bound grant from the Department of Education or the VITAL grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs; others have built programs staffed either by volunteers or full-time employees to meet the needs of their veteran students.
They have built systems, established programs, fostered the development of veteran student groups, created community advisory panels, and more.
Going forward, we are going to continue to meet as a group to ensure that all the institutions are aware of what is working throughout the state to meet the needs of their veteran students. This will allow us to develop best practices, pursue resources collectively and share new ideas.
Our meeting in late April was a great first step, but it really only built upon the work we started as a group last year while also providing us a better framework for moving forward.
The effort put into this focus area by schools throughout our state has been impressive. It has been inspiring to watch each institution tackle the issues with unique solutions and a common tenacity.
There is a long way to go in some respects, and indeed, some exciting new initiatives regarding veterans in higher education will be announced later this year, but Nevada can truly and proudly show how committed it is to serving its existing and returning veterans.
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.