I know firsthand the daunting task veterans face when transitioning to civilian life, since my son is a veteran and my brother, who recently passed away, was also a veteran. Many of them face a long recovery process from physical and mental injuries. Military and veterans who want to pursue higher education also face additional challenges beyond the usual college onboarding process. They have to navigate a complex system of rules and regulations surrounding their military benefits.
That’s why I was so proud to recently attend and witness a virtual induction ceremony for new members of the SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society. Northwest Vista College (NVC) has been a local chapter member organization of SALUTE for almost a year. NVC has also provided support to military and veterans for almost as long as the college has been in existence, this year marking 25 years.
NVC serves more than 1,700 students who utilize military benefits, although the actual number of military and veteran students taking courses at NVC is actually higher than that because not all students who qualify for benefits actually use them. NVC employees who work in the Veteran’s Affairs department at NVC are either veterans or have family members who are veterans and are knowledgeable in helping students navigate through the paperwork that goes into accessing military education benefits.
All sister colleges within the Alamo Colleges District – Northeast Lakeview, Northwest Vista, Palo Alto, San Antonio, and St. Philip’s College – have Veterans Affairs departments that assist students with the admissions, enrollment, the financial aid process, and other support services.
Military members who may be stationed for duty at different locations all over the country and the world can take courses at several colleges and universities with different admissions and transfer requirements. This complicates the process of obtaining transcripts, which are mandatory for admission. Some courses transfer while others may not. Easing this process for students is essential to their admission, enrollment, and subsequent success.
Other aspects that determine success include advocacy and counseling. These services also include assisting students in finding housing, food, and shelter; providing referrals; and connecting military and veteran students to community resources.
One of the services that our military and veteran students currently cannot access is our Veterans Lounge and Resource Center, a physical location on campus. Prior to COVID-19, military and veteran students could use the lounge to enjoy a cup of coffee or snacks, watch TV, or use computers while engaging with fellow student veterans. Special events for veterans and their families such as fun runs, breakfasts, family game nights, celebrations, and employment workshops have also been halted during the coronavirus pandemic.
There is no doubt that military and veteran students benefit greatly from peer-to-peer networking, mentorship, and engagement. NVC has seen these benefits through the college’s unique Vet2Vet program, a personalized service where faculty and staff who are veterans support student veterans by sharing information, resources, and opportunities specific to veteran needs.
Providing personalized support for any student during a pandemic has proven to be extremely challenging for all colleges and universities. Becoming a source of support for special populations, including military and veterans, is additionally daunting but one that is worth pursuing to ensure success.
I am reminded and encouraged by a quote from Abraham Lincoln that should serve as a guiding principle for all of us in higher education:
“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”