Making transition from veteran to classroom

State program puts veterans in touch with resources to navigate college life

The Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs has entered into a new endeavor with the state’s higher education providers to create a new program to serve veterans students — LaVetCorps.

Beginning in the fall, LaVetCorp will open 30 new resource centers on campuses statewide — including Mc-Neese State University and Sowela Technical Community College — to increase student access to state and federal veterans benefits.

The program will be staffed a LaVetCorp “Navigator” — a veteran or dependent of a veteran who is familiar with both the military lifestyle and challenges facing veterans as they transition to civilian life and the resources available at each individual college or university.

Chris Thomas, McNeese’s vice president of student affairs, said the navigator will serve as “peer mentor” who truly understands the bureaucracy of the VA and that of higher education.

“This will be a person who understands where they comes from; an advocate on behalf of the institution and the VA,” he said.

McNeese has 172 students enrolled who are utilizing GI Bill benefits with variety of backgrounds and a variety of needs while navigating university life, Thomas said.

“Vets come with war-time experience or not, deployment, different branches, with college experience or without,” he said. “ ‘Veteran’ is truly a diverse word when it comes to serving this umbrella term of students.”

It’s “highly likely” the university serves more veterans who may choose to not identify as so, Thomas added. He said he hopes the resource center and its staff will create a “halo effect” that will encourage more veterans to identify.

“We owe this to them,” he said. “They served us and we must serve them now.”

Sowela has 150 veteran students enrolled. The college has made veteran services available for a number of years, Allison Dering, interim executive director of enrollment management and student affairs, said.

She said the LaVetCorp program will take the veteran’s experience “to the next level.”

The college plans to renovate a new space in its Charleston building to serve as the LaVet-Corp “centralized location.” In a communal, easily accessible setting, veterans will work with the campus navigator and have refreshments and entertainment.

“They go from all working for one purpose to civilian life, but that sense of camaraderie is still there,” she said. “When veterans meet, it’s amazing, they can just strike a conversation from a common background.”

The navigator will not be a counselor, she said, but rather will help foster the sense of community that veterans are used to from their time serving.

“Vets have such a unique experience, if you’re not one, it’s hard to understand. Hopefully this will make that transition easier,” Dering said.


 

For more information on LaVetCorp, visit www.vetaffairs.la.gov.

””LaVetCorpsSpecial to the American Press