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Robert Kehrberg, 25, an Air Force veteran who served for five years, had a “team” to depend on every day while working 12-hour shifts from midnight to noon, seven days a week. In Kuwait, from 2012-13 he was an integrated avionics systems specialist, which means he maintained and fixed planes.
Despite a grueling military schedule, Kehrberg still set aside time to take calculus classes. When he returned home to Glendora in 2014, he chose the nearby University of La Verne because his cousins had positive experiences and had recommended it for the small class size, he said.
The University fulfills his academic needs, he said, but the junior computer science major wishes ULV had more resources – particularly a veterans center. Not having such a vital support structure, he said, is a significant problem with his La Verne experience and transition back to civilian life.
“Being in the military, you’re used to having your whole squad with you,” said Kehrberg, who is the campus Veterans’ Club secretary. “In the military, we have our sense of mission every day, and when you leave, you don’t have that anymore and you miss that. You feel kind of alone and isolated.”
While traditional undergraduates who attend college after high school often follow similar goals of preparing for their careers, finding organizations with like-minded classmates and transitioning to independent adulthood, veteran students often have very different orientation.
“We’re here to get to class, go to work, go home and get to our families,” Kehrberg said. “We’re not really here to socialize and all that – when we get together, we’re here to get something done.”
The University is a five-year-in-row recipient of the “Military Friendly School” designation for “providing educational opportunities for the adult learner and specifically for military students,” according to the website of Military Friendly, which conducts ratings on institutions for military friendliness.
Yet despite this designation, it is lacking an important resource often found on other campuses – an on-campus veterans center.
An on-campus veterans center
A veterans center could fund work-study programs, serve as a place for veterans to gather in between classes and provide often needed counseling and support. It could also provide community service, because volunteering gives a sense of purpose to veterans transitioning back to civilian life, Kehrberg said.
“A lot of our friends and family mean well and want to help, but sometimes it’s hard for our family members to understand what we’ve been through and experienced,” said John Mendoza, a psychologist and a team leader at the San Bernardino Vet Center, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “A lot of veteran experiences are extreme, but in a veterans center, we’re all veterans. We took care of each other overseas, but we need to take care of each other over here.”
Mendoza, who served six years on active duty and 20 years in the reserves for the National Guard, said veterans centers offer valuable support for veterans and their families.
ULV’s veteran population
There are approximately 136 veteran students on the University’s main campus and 460 across all the campuses, including the military centers at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Point Mugu Naval Air Station. La Verne also has active duty students, but the exact number is not known.
If the University were to open a veterans center – even just a spare classroom – it would be run by students and funded through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs work-study programs.
There should not be high costs to having a center, said Diana Towles, veteran students success coordinator at the Office of Veteran Students Success.
Dominick Torres, 30, senior business administration major who served in the Marines for four years, also finds it difficult to connect with fellow veterans on campus.
“We just want a room or a lounge to do homework and meet other veterans,” said Torres, who is also the Veterans’ Club president. “I’d love it to be the case here. (The University) definitely earned the ‘Military Friendly’ title, but I don’t know what makes this more military friendly than the other schools.”
“If you don’t have a place to gather, then you don’t have a place to gather,” Kehrberg added. “It’s hard until we get a place for people to drop by and get information.”
“I think the problem is that they’re not able to connect with each other, so they feel isolated, and they feel like they’re not being served,” she said. “I feel like when they do have a center, and they can do programs and connect with each other, then they’ll feel like they’re being valued.”
These veteran student concerns are similar to other non-traditional undergraduates who feel disconnected here, though their need for community may be more pressing than others.
According to the National Center for PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, about 11 percent to 20 percent veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in a given year have PTSD. About 30 percent of Vietnam veterans experience PTSD sometime in their lifetimes. PTSD is a mental health issue people may develop after experiencing traumatic events.
‘Bureaucracy moves really slow’
Veterans Club adviser and Adjunct Professor of Sociology Dan Kennan, a Vietnam veteran, has discussed these students’ wishes for a veterans center with University administrators. But currently, he said, there is no space for a veterans center.
“We met with the (University) president about two months ago, and she said they’re working on things,” Kennan said. “The bureaucracy moves really slow.”
The University has 16 staff members on the Veteran Students Advisory Council and six veteran student services staff members in different departments. In the student accounts department, designated staff members are responsible for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs vocational rehab benefits and processing information. There are also financial aid officers dedicated to serving veterans and certifying officials for those qualified for benefits from the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the G.I. Bill.
“We have the staff, but we’re just not here (in the Office of Veteran Students Success) but at their respective departments,” Towles said. With a veterans center all their needs could be addressed in one place, she added.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs covers many veterans’ tuition, and if it does not, they are eligible for other scholarships and grants at the University.
ULV is also in a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the Yellow Ribbon Program where eligible students with educational expenses above the national cap can receive additional funds from the University.
Towles said the Campus Accelerated Program for Adults, or CAPA, is beneficial to veterans because most participants can graduate in three years and save on out-of-pocket expenses if the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funds them for only a certain amount of time.
The Office of Veteran Student Success, on the second floor of the Campus Center, was created two years ago along with the veteran students success coordinator position. As an army veteran from a family of veterans, Towles said she finds the job meaningful. Her role is to assist military members and their dependents in areas such as academics, financial support and counseling.
“It’s an honor to be in this position to serve veterans,” Towles said. “I’ve served my country too, but (it’s difficult) for veterans go through the process of transitioning from the military to civilian life. They work hard, and we just want to make sure we service them well. I advocate for our veterans a lot.”
Future plans for veterans
Towles is assisting the University in becoming a Veterans Affairs approved institution. Currently, half of a 10-year $500,000 Ahmanson Foundation grant is funding the office, and the other half goes toward veteran student scholarships. The goal is to have the University fully fund the office so the entire grant will be for scholarships.
Her short-term goal is to create a reception area outside her office, hopefully by the end of this summer, so veterans can participate in work-study. Since Towles is currently the only person working there, it will benefit students coming in and will create job opportunities for veterans.
“It’ll be veterans helping veterans, because that’s what veterans do,” Towles said.
The ultimate goal is still to have a veterans center, hopefully in the new spaces and buildings created through the Master Plan, though currently there are no concrete plans for a veterans center.
“The biggest problem is there’s nowhere for vets to exist,” Kennan said. “Anything we can do to create a space that’s theirs or a home they can go to and share experiences will be very vital to them in adjusting back to civilian life. It’s quite the switch coming back home – it’s a different world.”
As it is hard for veteran students to meet fellow veterans on campus, it is even harder to promote the Veterans Club, and many are not even aware of it.
“We tried to get it to be the same as the traditional clubs on campus, but that doesn’t work,” Kehrberg said. “The college life is different for veterans.”
The club currently has 40 members, and the main purpose is to find and fulfill the needs of veteran students.
“The ultimate goal is to help veterans have it better than before coming here,” Torres said.
Torres encourages students to contact him for support, even if they cannot attend meetings.
Torres also believes veterans should receive priority registration like in neighboring schools. Registering on the first day along with Honors Program participants and students with disabilities should not be difficult to implement, Torres said.
Ironically, Veterans Day is not a campus holiday – although the University is a “Military Friendly School” and the city of La Verne and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12034 are in a partnership to celebrate Veterans Day.
Provost Jonathan Reed said the President’s Executive Council reviewed the possibility of making Veterans Day a school holiday, but that it will not happen this year.
“We are committed to veterans at La Verne and are taking steps to review the calendar with Veterans Day as a holiday for the fall of 2017,” Reed said in a recent emailed statement. “Making this possible means that human resources will need to change the current holiday-personal day policies, and the registrar must create a revised calendar while accounting for the accreditation-required classroom contact hours.”
Until there is a veterans center, the students, along with Kennan, will continue to advocate for one.
“I would love to have more veterans come to this school,” Torres said. “This is a wonderful school and more people should come here.”
They also hope the University will live up to its “Military Friendly School” designation.
“I think as far as being friendly and open and a good atmosphere, I agree with that,” Kennan said. “As far as having a lot of services, I don’t. I guess I have to say I don’t agree with (the designation). People are good and accepting, but I feel like we have a lot more to make it better.”
For now, La Verne veteran students are using the resources at veterans centers at Citrus College and Mt. San Antonio College since they are open to the public.
Veterans can also seek support at the San Bernardino Vet Center. It has community access points in neighboring cities and the employees comes to La Verne in a RV to an area near Bonita Avenue and Wheeler Avenue for six hours, two Tuesdays a month.
“Don’t try to fight it alone,” Mendoza said. “A lot of times as veterans, we’re taught to be very strong. We’re warriors, but a lot of times we think that just because we’re back here, we have to fight PTSD alone, and we don’t have to.”
For more information on veteran resources at the University of La Verne, visit laverne.edu/veteranservices.
For information on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs veterans centers, visit vetcenter.va.gov or call 877-927-8387.
Students can contact Torres about the Veterans Club at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cody Luk can be reached at email@example.com.