Students + Campus

From combat to classroom: Center for military veterans opens at UCLA

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Today nearly 200 veterans attend UCLA, but that number is expected to grow quickly next year when the new GI Bill, the largest expansion of educational services for military personnel since 1944, goes into effect in August. That's why an on-campus resource center for veterans, which recently opened on campus, became a top priority.

 

"We listened to student veterans who called out for a welcoming place where their fellow veterans could go for supportive services and to find assistance gaining access to the various benefits," said Janina Montero, UCLA vice chancellor for student affairs.

 

The new UCLA Veterans Resource Office is housed at the Center for Women and Men, located in the basement of the Student Activities Center in the center of campus.

 

"It was decided that this was the best place for the center because we already offer many of the supportive services that men and women veterans are likely to need," said Tina Oakland, director of the Center for Women and Men. These services include workshops on topics such as communication, relationships, dating and conflict resolution.

 

"We now have the resources to structure some of these workshops specifically for veterans, who face unique challenges when they return from active duty," Oakland said. "For instance, veterans might be returning to a relationship where one person has grown accustomed to making all the household decisions. Others are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

 

In addition, the veterans center recently qualified as a federal work-study site, so three UCLA student veterans will be working as resource coordinators, offering assistance to veterans who need help cutting through red tape to get their benefits.

 

One of these coordinators, history major Josh Webster, is president of the UCLA chapter of the Military Veterans Organization, a student group for veterans. He knows how challenging it can be to transition to college life and navigate the waters of federal bureaucracy.

 

"Unlike the typical undergraduate, our financial assistance is coming from the federal government rather than the financial aid office on campus, and for medical care we need to go to the VA," Webster said, referring to the nearby West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs facility. "We are lucky that the VA is so close, but working with the VA to get these funds is a lot trickier."

 

In addition to the brick-and-mortar center on campus, a center website, www.veterans.ucla.edu, was just launched. The site is a clearinghouse for information for veterans and includes links to information on benefits, Veterans Affairs services and on-campus student support groups such as the Veterans Resource Team, a group of individuals in key areas around campus who understand the needs of veterans and are ready to assist them.

 

Webster says the website will help people stay connected to the center.

 

"One of the benefits of the center is that it's a place to sit down and talk — a counseling center, more than just an administrative center," he said. "That is where we saw the greatest need. Often veterans come here from far away and are distanced from their friend base. They become isolated, and they need people who have gone through similar experiences who can make them feel comfortable and who can tell them what they are eligible for."

 

Ultimately, according to Webster, providing ease of transition and access to information will make UCLA more approachable for veterans and will help UCLA become the prototype for the rest of the UC system.

 

"UCLA is always looking for diversity and for nontraditional students," Webster said. "Veterans are potential civic leaders who have already worked in the federal sector. This adds to the undergraduate population."

 

Calendar item: UCLA will hold a Veterans Day ceremony on Friday, Nov. 7, at 10 a.m. in UCLA's Wilson Plaza. The event is free and open to the public.

 

UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer more than 323 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Four alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize. For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom.

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