Veteran Counselor Promised Still Not At SMC

On March 1, Santa Monica College (SMC) announced a deal with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) that will bring a "VetSuccess on Campus Counselor" to the Veteran’s Resource Center on the main campus to assist student veterans.

According to the VA website, the VSOC program began as a pilot program at the University of South Florida in 2009 before expanding to almost 100 campuses by 2013. SMC is one of only thirteen community colleges in California to participate in this program.

Elaine Morton, interim Faculty leader for the Veteran Resource Center, said, “one of the primary populations that it’s helping is our vocational rehabilitation students.” The VSOC counselor will take over the contracts of 25 out of the 100 veteran students currently enrolled in the Vocational Rehabilitation Program and will be able to take on 25 additional contracts of veterans wishing to enroll in the program.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Program works like this: in order to qualify for the program, the veteran must get a “comprehensive Edplan” from SMC that details which classes they will take with a stated goal in mind. The student then goes to their counselor, usually at the Veteran’s Administration, and applies for a contract. Once the application is submitted, it goes through a “laborious” process. If approved, that will mean that the VA will pay for the specific classes that will help the student veteran achieve their goal.

Contracts can be for anywhere between six months to two years, depending on the student’s goals. If at the end of the contract, the student wishes to take more classes, they must go through the application process again and sign a new contract.

Morton sees having a VSOC counselor on campus beneficiary. "It’ll really streamline some of the services because it’s been problematic for the vets to try to go back and forth and back and forth to the Veterans Administration to get paperwork done.”

In addition to streamlining paperwork, the new counselor will also help students by informing and helping them apply for health services like Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH), and other programs by pointing them to the appropriate agency.

SMC will be sharing the VSOC with UCLA, where the counselor will spend three days at UCLA and two days at SMC per week. When asked if that might overextend the counselor, Morton says, “They try to keep their case load to 125 people. They’re going to be in charge of 50 students here and 75 students at UCLA. Typically their case load is 250. They’re trying to keep it low so they can have more time they can spend with students that are receiving benefits.”

Back in March, Morton stated the counselor “will be on-site beginning the middle of the current spring semester.” However, not only is the counselor still not at SMC yet, the Veteran Resource Center has yet to be told who the counselor will be or when they will arrive.