University Times

Veterans Resource Center aims to break stigma and build community

Becky Nava, Contributing Writer

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On a recent afternoon at Cal State LA’s Veterans Resource Center, students chattered and laughed in between bites of spaghetti and Doritos. Brown paper lunch sacks and takeaway containers lay strewn across the tables in between open books and charging laptops. Ross and Rachel bickered on a “Friends” rerun playing in the background.

Kinesiology major, Martin Chiong comes here to study, socialize and even nap between classes. Chiong recently transferred from Santa Monica College, after having served in the Army for four years.  

The vet center, called the VRC, “really helped me transition into the school and become comfortable and warm,” he said.

Despite the lighthearted environment, the VRC addresses very practical issues that veteran students face.

Financial need remains one of the primary barriers to higher education for veterans, according to VRC Director Dani Molina.

The VRC offers various scholarship opportunities as well as access to a VetSuccess counselor who helps educate students on various health and education benefits that they are eligible for.

Academic support is an integral part of the VRC’s assistance. Many veteran students have gaps between their time in the service and school. Resources include computer access and printing services, study group areas and priority registration.

Beyond the VRC, campus support is also vital to ensuring a positive environment. This begins with awareness and education, according to Molina.

“We want to bring awareness to a growing but misunderstood veteran student population,” said Molina.

For instance, the VRC works to combat the stigma surrounding mental illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “We’re careful not to perpetuate damaging stereotypes,” said Molina.

The VetNet Ally seminar is one way the VRC hopes to foster a more inclusive community. The seminar provides participants with insight into the veteran student experience, featuring a student panel and a presentation.

Chiong echoes the importance of a supportive campus in his experience.

“When I first got here everyone was really welcoming,” said Chiong. “I fell in love with everybody-the school, the service.”

Campus support has Molina hopeful that the VRC can help change any negative perceptions of veteran students.

“Veterans are incredibly capable of becoming the next great leaders,” said Molina.

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