Establishing a Veterans Center on Campus
By David W. Edwards, Sr.
- Do your veteran and dependent students know where to go to for assistance in getting their Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits started?
- Do they know who to go to if they need tutoring or accessibility services?
- Are they aware that there are entities on campus to help them navigate through college and assist them in preparing for life after graduation?
The common link in all of these questions centers around the word “veteran”. In its true definition, a veteran is someone who has served or is currently serving in the Armed Forces. With the change in the Chapter 33 / Post 9/11 benefits, spouses and dependents are now able to utilize education benefits that, until recently, were exclusively for the actual military member. As a result of this change, the population of individuals using VA education benefits has expanded tremendously over the last five years and will continue to grow as more military members separate and retire from active duty and pass on their benefits to an immediate family member.
Most individuals wanting to use or transfer education benefits have to navigate the VA website to figure out what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. This is where having a Veterans Center on campus will ease the anxiety that often accompanies members using their education benefits for the first time.
What Needs to Happen in Creating a Veterans Center on Campus?
Step 1: The University has to make this a priority and commit to serving a very special population of students.
Ohio University just recently created the Veterans Center on the Athens campus in May of 2014 to assist all veteran, active duty, guard, reserve and dependent students utilize their education benefits. The creation of this center enables the Director to build bridges with key university agencies to foster a commitment to aid those students in successfully navigating college, from the time they walk onto the campus, to when they walk across the Convocation Center to receive their diploma.
Step 2: Hire individuals who are committed to serving the veteran and dependent students.
A key component of this is to hire individuals who have a military background or have been affiliated with the military in some capacity. The essence is that those individuals can “speak” the language, but more importantly, understand the transition that many retired and separated military members go through when going to college. It is not an easy transition for many, and those individuals who are struggling need to know they can come to people who will listen to them and offer encouragement, assistance and a listening ear.
Step 3: Take advantage of the VA Work Study program.
In this program, established by the VA, college students are eligible to work in a VA office to provide assistance and perform day-to-day work to help the VA continue with its mission. For the Veterans Center at Ohio University, we utilize our VA work study students to answer phones, and assist walk-ins because they are the ones who have “been there, done that.” They are relatively close to the same age as the veterans so an instant bond is created where the student can feel safe and confident that they are going to be taken care of in a courteous and professional manner.
Step 4: Communicate with the veteran and dependent students as much as needed.
It is important to keep the students aware of any changes that may affect their education benefits. For example, they need to be informed of how dropping classes may affect them, specifically in terms of having to pay the VA back. Additionally, letting them know what’s going on around campus that is geared towards them helps them to feel as if they are an integral part of the campus community.
Establishing a Veteran's Center on a college campus is vital to successfully attracting veteran and military students in attending that university. If the Veteran's Center has the above four essential elements, the veterans and their dependents are better able to successfully navigating college, feel safe and confident and know that they are truly a part of the campus community.
David W. Edwards, Sr. Director, Brigadier General James M. Abraham and Colonel Arlene F. Greenfield Veterans and Military Student Services Center, has completed 26 years in the United States Air Force. His last assignment was a Superintendent, Plans and Resources Flight, at Travis Air Force Base (TAFB), California. In this position, he was responsible for the leadership, guidance and welfare of military and civilian personnel, providing TAFB Communications Security and Information Assurance protection, mail services, records management guidance, and multi-million dollar projects that improved the working environment of TAFB.
David was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and attended Seventy-First High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He entered the Air Force and arrived at Lackland AFB, Texas in December 1986 for basic training. The first day of basic training was a very small step towards his lifelong love for learning. His Air Force career has been a large and integral part of his life, but not his only passion. His motto is to “Lead through Service and Love.”
After retiring from the military, he returned to Athens, Ohio and became a “college student” where he was employed by the Veterans Affairs (VA) through the VA Work Study program. It was in this capacity that he developed a love and passion for helping his fellow veteran and military dependent students in successfully utilizing their VA education benefits. It was during this time that the position of Director of the Veterans Center was created. Subsequently, he applied for the job and was hired.
He and his wife, Lisa, have been married for thirty years, during which time they both earned their Bachelor’s degrees while raising their two sons, David Jr, and Nick. He also completed his Master’s Degree in Post-secondary and Adult Education in 2010 through Capella University.
While stationed at Ohio University he mentored many young cadets, and his love for sports and fellowship gave him the pleasure of hosting many “Super Bowl” events at his home for the entire Detachment. He also served on the Amanda J. Cunningham Leadership Center Advisory Council to develop a leadership training center for all Ohio University students.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org