Veteran Resource Center: Home Away From Home

Concepcion Ortega (left), Veteran and Psych major at Santa Monica College, welcomes students at the Veterans Resource Center. Michael De Leon (right), 25 and also a veteran, is visiting the center as he will study Business this Fall 2017. Photo taken on May 16, 2017 at the Santa Monica Veterans Resource Center, Calif., by Emeline Moquillon.

By Linda Aviles, Zin Chiang, and Marisa Vasquez

Everyone needs a place where they can feel comfortable, either at work, school, or home. This is especially true for veterans, who are just getting out of the military and heading back to school. Concepcion Ortega, who served in the U.S. Marine Corp for eight years, and is hoping to transfer to Loyola Marymount University next spring with a Psych major, explains that the Veterans Resource Center provides a place of comfort for him to transition into civilian life. “I love the Veterans Resource Center,” explains Ortega, “It’s like a second home to me; I have no family here in California, so I spend a lot of time at the center. It’s a nice place where I really feel comfortable," Santa Monica College not only has a safe space for veterans to study but also allows benefits for their student experience. This is all thanks to the Veterans Resource Center (VRC).

Not only does The Veteran Resource Center provide a home away from home, it also helps veterans obtain their financial benefits as well as access to job training. Linda Sinclair, the faculty leader of the VRC, states that "many of the veterans who are honorably discharged from the armed forces can get money to go to school." This is possible through the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) which provides veterans with tuition and fee payments, monthly housing allowances, and books and supplies stipend. The VCR puts this at a high priority and gives much-needed help with navigating the complex and volatile bureaucratic process. Martha Romano, the Senior Student Services Specialist at the center said, "There are rules that have to be followed between the Veterans Administration and the school, and they have to make sure they are followed." These rules, however, change all the time and can be confusing. On March 17, 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a delay in G.I. Bill Benefits. “We are experiencing some processing delays for certain Veterans and service members primarily because we initiated a review of previously processed claims.” says the announcement on their official website, citing additional reviews that requires inquiries into training dates and service time with the Department of Defense as the cause.

Although the VRC’s service is now a staple on campus, the availability of such support was a recent addition. Sinclair, who has worked with veterans for decades, noticed that before the VCR was established, veterans were not receiving the help or support that they needed. "The types of services the veterans got when they returned to school was not much more than just getting their benefits," she said. "I worked with the veterans coming back from Vietnam. They were treated terribly when they returned to the States because of the political climate, and there just weren't a lot of services for them. They came in to do their paperwork and got paid, and that was it," she remembered. "There were no programs on campus for the veterans, so we here at SMC wanted to give the veterans the best service that we could, so we added a Veterans Resource Center," said Sinclair.

The VRC serves between 350 to 450 veterans per semester and also helps the children of some service members. If the veterans were injured, under certain conditions, their children may qualify for educational benefits. The services offered include tutoring and a place to hang out to feel comfortable. "We want the veterans to be as comfortable as they can be," said Sinclair.

To make the veterans build a community and connect with others, the VRC has also hosted events such as college campus tours and a veteran’s Surf Camp— where the Jimmy Miller Surfrider Foundation gave surfing classes on the beach.

For more information visit the Veterans Resource Center in the Liberal Arts Building, Room 135.

The Veterans Resource Center, Liberal Arts Building, Room 135. (310)434-8205 Monday-Thursday 8 am-4 pm, Friday 8 am - 1 pm. Counseling times vary.