By Christopher Hartwell @Silienceseen
At six in the morning a Black Tie bus is loaded up with veterans from LPC and DVC. The occupants of the bus are ready for a full day of discussions and sharing stories to our state leaders about their experiences as both veterans and civilians.
On March 8, 2017 veterans and staff members from community colleges in California went to the state capitol for Operation Veterans Resource Center Funding, an event created to bring awareness about the needs of veteran students to legislators.
During a meeting with Melanie Figueroa, a staffer for Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes of Calif. district 42, the veterans explained that while they are honored for their service, when they re-enter civilian life going to school is not that easy. While they are funded for school using the GI bill, the veterans are not given any direction on how to use that money.
Figueroa listened to the veterans in earnest, asking a few questions for about 30 minutes before the group moved on.
The main point agreed upon was that without the structure of military life, the stress of adjusting can often be the last straw for veterans if they don’t have a reliable network of peers and counselors who understand their situation.
RJ Rahey knows this and as well as being a veteran, he also serves as the vice president of the Veteran-Student Organization. After meeting with Figueroa, Rahey wanted to explain further and said, “We’re very fortunate at Las Positas that there’s a good veterans center there. Unfortunately there is a lot of other colleges in the area that don’t have such a good veterans center or in the state, so we’re here advocating for that and advocating for more funding for the centers so that hopefully we can hire more people and justhave a better overall turnout with veterans.”
The group of veterans went on to meet with assemblywoman Catherine Baker and talked about how the issues affecting student veterans are different form that of other students.
A LPC veteran explained to Baker how a balloon popping at the recent Las Positas club day event was fairly harmless to most people, but it was more difficult for some of the veterans on campus in earshot of this.
Unfortunately, events like that can trigger memories and emotions for a veteran and without a support network to help them talk to other veterans about these issues and more, the consequences can be devastating.
Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide and Rahey expressed hopes that by having better veteran centers statewide and eventually nationwide, that number can be reduced and hopefully minimized.
As the day went on veterans from across the state spoke to members of congress and their staff members about the importance of having a Veterans Resource Center at each school
Having an on site counselor, a safe place for veterans to meet and an active support system that may include food and drinks for those still adjusting to a new life all takes funding.
LPC student veteran John Adams said, “Ultimately, you want a budget line item to be added to the annual budget for the year. You want the governor to understand that our veterans as a whole are an important resource to the state and they need to be treated as such.”
Unfortunately, while money is allocated at schools for projects, scholarships, faculty and more, there is no allotted money for veterans resource centers that provide the necessary help.
Las Positas however has support from the community to help veterans, but that isn’t the case for most community colleges in Calif.
After meeting Matthew R. Dumlao, a consultant for Senator Henry Stern, veteran Marco Gonzales expressed his concerns. Gonzales knows the legislature must act and said, “I hope they’re interested in helping veterans because veterans are not getting any money from the state right now and (veterans centers give the) opportunity to all colleges that we have at Las Positas.”
With around 100 Veterans showing up and over 60 legislators there to meet them, the 2017 Operations Veteran Resource Center funding event is an important event to those in attendance.
For Daniel DiEva, this event was really a priority.
“I really want to see this take off. I’m not even doing this for myself, I’m missing class to be here,” said DiEva
DiEva wasn’t the only one who missed class for this. Some of the veterans remarked on the way back that they had arranged makeup dates for missing tests and assignments to attend the event.
Adams said, “I think it went well. I think everyone had a chance to voice what they felt was important about having a veterans center and that was basically what we were trying to do, get our concerns out there, be heard and get our other colleges to get funded just as Las Positas has been.”
As many veterans know, the military forms bonds that are difficult to find anywhere else. Those same veterans that attended this event were able to once again rely on those bonds to address an issue that plagues their community as it currently stands.