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UCLA, Chancellor Block seeks to foster student veterans

The UCLA Veterans Initiative, which was announced by Chancellor Gene Block last week, aims to increase the visibility of student veterans on campus by educating the UCLA community about veterans issues and highlight the services that UCLA already offers for student veterans.

By hong chen

April 9, 2013 1:15 a.m.

Chancellor Gene Block announced a new initiative last week to help increase public understanding of veterans issues as members of the armed forces return home from overseas deployment.

The UCLA Veterans Initiative officially started in January, when UCLA co-sponsored a veterans reception in Washington, D.C. The initiative is a yearlong effort to educate the UCLA community about veterans issues and the veteran-focused services the university already provides, Block stated in an email to students on April 1.

“We can never repay our veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our country,” Block said in the email. “But we can come together as a community to better understand both the challenges and the great opportunities encountered by the growing population of veterans across the nation.”

About 300 student veterans are currently enrolled at UCLA and the Veterans Resource Office sets up programming to make them feel part of the UCLA community, said Paolo Velasco, the interim director of the Bruin Resource Center. The center houses the Veterans Resource Office and helps direct veterans to on-campus services.

The Bruin Resource Center also updated its UCLA Veterans website in line with Block’s announcement. The site lists on-campus and off-campus programs and services the university provides to veterans.

The programs include professional psychiatric help at UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services and Operation Mend, a program that provides plastic and reconstructive surgery and mental-health treatment for veterans wounded in combat.

Some of the office’s programming includes entrepreneurship boot camps, venture capitalist speeches and First Wednesdays, an event hosted by the office on the first Wednesday of every month aimed at helping veterans network with graduate school programs and students, Velasco said.

The initiative has garnered mixed reactions from student veterans.

Andrew Nicholls, a fourth-year psychology student and veterans coordinator at the Veterans Resource Office, said he has used most of the services offered for veterans and hopes his peers will learn about and use the same resources that have helped him navigate UCLA.

“I think (veterans) have an amazing amount of connectivity on campus, and there are a lot of things we have access to which regular students have to figure out on their own,” Nicholls said.

Dani Molina, a third-year doctoral student in higher education and organizational change and vice president of external affairs in the Graduate Students Association, said he thinks UCLA should do more to support student veterans beyond the new initiative.

Molina, who was deployed in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said he thinks the administration should also collect better data on UCLA’s student veteran population to better specialize their services to population needs.

It is difficult to collect accurate statistics on the number of student veterans, since some veterans opt to save their GI benefits for later or choose not to answer the admissions question that asks if they are a veteran, said Bernard Llanos, veterans affairs coordinator at the UCLA Registrar’s Office.

Benjamin Knox, a fourth-year geography and environmental studies student and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said UCLA’s new initiative does not seem to address the difficulty many veterans face while readjusting to civilian life.

“Me and a lot of my (veteran) friends felt kind of clueless because of being out of school for four, five years,” he said. “We really had no clue where to get started (when we first got here).”

In an interview, Chancellor Block acknowledged students’ concerns and said the initiative is a learning process for the university to see how to best serve its student veterans.

“We’re going to try to be responsive within the limits of what we can do and we would (like) to hear what services (student veterans) want,” Block said.

UCLA plans to hold a half-day forum on “How Veterans are Changing America?” on issues such as veteran prospects in the U.S. job market and how combat is changing medicine, according to Block’s email. The forum will be held in De Neve Auditorium at 1 p.m. on April 27.

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