Veteran students find a green zone at Veterans' Resource Center

Daniel Anderson, 26, lives with his girlfriend and has been attending Santa Monica College since August, 2009. Originally a theater major, he discovered he had a passion for writing, and that he had a particular fascination with mythology. "Fiction reaches masses in a profound way. The more universal you make it, the people can understand it or be more interested in it," said Anderson, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Anderson is one of over 450 student veterans on SMC's campus that benefit from grants received by the Veterans' Resource Center. One technology grant allowed the center to acquire applications such as Dragon, which converts speech into text format, and Kurzweil 3000, which reads out text from both page and screen.

SMC also received the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant, for being a Center of Excellence for the Veteran Student Success Program, one of fifteen campuses in the nation to receive one. This three-year grant allows the VRC to hire a certifying official and a project manager, providing funding for the program and counseling for student veterans.

As someone who has known many fellow servicemen go in and out of jail, or otherwise go through a self-destructive process, Anderson thinks more should be done about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "It's really difficult to come back, I think now especially, and back into the civilian world, because our experiences aren't being told," said Anderson.

"When people come back, and I say I was in the Army, people's first question is, ‘Oh did you kill anybody?' that's a really disrespectful question. Or ‘oh yeah, so what's that like?'" said Anderson. "It's something that gets you in your core—to come back and have people think that it's like an MTV, television, video game-type experience—of a real life experience, is disrespectful."

Linda Sinclair is a counselor and faculty leader for the VRC. "When men and women come back from war, it's an adjustment," said Sinclair. "We had one vet who was here on campus for the first time during winter session and loved it, it was quiet. First day of spring semester, it was so crowded and crazy making, especially with PTSD."

The VRC acts as a one-stop shop for veterans, not only making sure they receive their benefits from the G.I. Bill, but also offering counseling, study room, a computer lab, and referrals to outside resources. Though the program has grown from serving just 165 students three years ago, Sinclair sees the need for more expansion, hoping to include veterans of foreign wars.

"Some days we'll see as many as 36 students for one counselor," said Sinclair. "We need scholarship money, we need more equipment; we want a center where guys can have more study room."

The center has been active in getting word out that SMC is a vet friendly campus. "We're not just trying to get students to come to Santa Monica [College], we're just trying to open their eyes to the fact that there are things available for them," said Sinclair.

For Anderson, who joined the Army and was ordered to the 10th Mountain Division, 4th Brigade, 2-4th Infantry in 2004, it was difficult to join campus life.

"I came here and I didn't know anybody and didn't talk to anybody. I was like ‘I'm just going to do my school,' and I didn't get that social aspect," said Anderson. "Then I came here [VRC] and started meeting other vets; then I loosened up and started making the transition from vet to a student vet."

Anderson then became President, and later Vice-President of the Student Veterans Association, the partner club of the VRC. He has now taken a smaller role as just a member, in order to better focus on his studies.

The VRC  is a safe, neutral zone for vets and for their families. "We don't have recruiters in this office," said Sinclair. "We are not a political organization here. It's not to try to make a statement for or against anything."

"Many  of the vets that come here, that just do their paperwork and leave—I think that they should come by and look more into the services the club provides, and the Veterans' Resource Center," said Anderson. "It's a great service to get help and a good social place to meet people."