By Kate Rhoads
After serving six years as an infantryman in the U.S. Army and deciding to attend Brookhaven College to study criminal justice, Todd Rogers knew he wanted to get plugged into a community of other student veterans with whom he could network and share similar experiences. Rogers said he found such a community in Brookhaven’s Student Veterans Association.
The SVA is a student-run veteran group that welcomes veterans from all branches of the military and gives them the opportunity to find the camaraderie they may miss after coming home from a deployment, whether it be by meeting at a sporting event or giving back to the community with ticket raffles and toy drives, Veterans Affairs Coordinator Jon Tarell said.
Tarell said there is a high turnover rate in the student association, as many student veterans are generally older and tend to spend fewer years at Brookhaven than the majority of incoming students.
Rogers said when he joined the SVA in January 2014, there were only a handful of active members. Wanting to improve membership, Rogers said he was motivated to take a leadership role and ran for president, winning the election.
Rogers said, once a month, the SVA hosts an opportunity for members to get together and hang out. Rogers said offering these social nights is the best thing SVA has done, explaining that they provide a low-key atmosphere for members to form friendships and de-stress from the demands of their busy lives.
“[In the] SVA, you have mostly older people,” Rogers said. It’s a good place for these students to meet people their same age, he said.
One way the SVA gains new members is through the Veterans Affairs Priority Certification Sessions, an orientation for incoming veteran students held twice at the beginning of every semester, Beverly Neu Menassa, assistant dean of student support services, said. VA coordinators Monique Jameison and Jon Tarell created and implemented the PCSs during the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters.
The purpose of the PCSs, Neu Menassa said, was to streamline the VA process and free up more time to better meet the individual needs of veteran students.
By enabling VA coordinators to address incoming veteran students as a group and explain the benefits and resources available to them, the PCSs increase the quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness of the VA Services Program, Neu Menassa said.
Neu Menassa explained that prior to the PCSs, the number of visits to the VA office was consistently increasing; there was a 14 percent upsurge from Fall 2011 to Fall 2012, and an even bigger 22 percent jump from Spring 2012 to Spring 2013.
After implementing the PCSs, the number of visits to the VA offices decreased by 5 percent from Fall 2012 to Fall 2013, and fell by 29 percent from Spring 2013 to Spring 2014. “With decreased visits by veterans to the Veterans Affairs Office, the Veterans Affairs coordinators are able to focus on veterans services in a more holistic way,” Neu Menassa said in an email.
The recent changes led to the recognition of the PCSs as Brookhaven’s 2014-2015 Innovation of the Year in the Community College’s League for Innovation competition. According to the league’s website, the winning innovations “reflect capstone achievements and the continuing renewal of the spirit of innovation and experimentation upon which the League was founded.”
Rogers said he attended the PCS for the Spring 2014 semester, which was held in December 2013, and presented at the last two PCSs. “I know from a veteran’s standpoint that SVA helps you out a lot,” Rogers said, “Especially for people just transitioning out of the military, it’s a good place to collect info on all your benefits, and we’re more than happy to answer questions there, so it’s a great event to go to.”
For veteran students who are interested in getting involved and learning more about the resources available to them, the next PCS is tentatively scheduled to take place Dec. 16, 2014, Tarell said. The SVA Fall 2014 meeting schedule is every first and third Tuesday of the month at 2 p.m. in Room S064.