News Release| Veterans Forum; Cal State L.A.

Female veterans to share experiences as search dog coordinator, PTSD/sexual trauma advocate at Cal State L.A.’s Veterans Forum 

Los Angeles, CA – As keynote speaker, Tracey Cooper-Harris will reflect on her military service maintaining the health of search dogs for missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, during Cal State L.A.’s (CSULA) 2011 Veterans Forum on Friday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the University-Student Union.

Cooper-Harris served as an animal care sergeant while in the Army National Guard and Reserve from 1991-2003. She was activated for service in 2002 and deployed to Afghanistan, before being sent to support the Marines in Iraq the following year.  She will share her service through a screening of the “Lioness,” a documentary that showcases the often perilous duties of an all-female search team for the Marine Corps.

“My job entailed keeping military working dogs that were assigned to military bases healthy so they could detect drugs, explosives, and perform patrol duties,” said Cooper-Harris, who is working on her master’s degree in public administration at CSU Northridge. “Since I’ve gotten out [of the military], I’ve worked with veteran advocacy groups to help reduce the Veterans Administration (VA) claims backlog, the stigma associated with vets seeking help for suicide/mental health issues, and closing gaps for female veterans accessing care at VA facilities. I’ve also been working with service dogs for veterans, and doing my part to help repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Also addressing forum participants will be Mickiela Montoya, a female combat veteran who served in the California Army National Guard and United States Army Reserve for more than seven years, and in Iraq for 545 days.

She has also served in Kuwait, Mosul, Talil and Tikrit as a military police officer. Since coming back from Iraq, she has become an advocate for female veterans, addressing issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma, and homelessness. She once appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and was featured as a main character in the book The Lonely Soldier.

Valvincent Reyes, a special guest speaker at the forum, is coordinator of field education for the military social work and veteran services programs at University Park, Orange County Academic Center and the San Diego Academic Center, where he teaches about PTSD issues and clinical practice.

Reyes spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, and is currently a lieutenant colonel and medical company commander. His most recent deployment was in 2002 to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, where he worked with the Forward Deployed Combat Stress Control Team as a social work officer.

In 2004, he was sent to Fort Irwin Mental Health Services in San Bernardino County as a senior social work officer. There, he developed the post’s first PTSD program for redeployed Operation Iraqi Freedom combat soldiers as well as the Sexual Assault and Response Program. In 2009, he was deployed as officer-in-charge of three emergency trauma event management teams that provided post-incident debriefing and counseling services to the affected soldiers and survivors of the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre.

The Veterans Forum is open to CSULA students who are military veterans, current service men and women, and their family members. To date, more than 500 people are currently using benefits at CSULA, which includes military veterans, active duty service members, and military family members.

Organized by the University’s Veterans Advisory Committee, the forum will also include CSULA veterans sharing their experiences and struggles in higher education, meet-and-greets with University staff who work with veterans, and raffle drawings for student veterans. The forum will also provide information regarding veterans’ benefits and services and student-supported programs at Cal State L.A.

“The forum is a great way to share with student veterans all the services our office offers,” said Laura Shigemitsu, director of the Veterans Affairs Office at CSULA. “We are responsible for ensuring they have access to a streamlined system of support. Besides helping them manage and receive their Montgomery GI Bill or Post-911 GI Bill benefits, we [her team of work-study student veterans] provide a variety of assistance to those on campus who have served, often in ways they might not necessary think of.”

For forum details, call Shigemitsu at (323) 343-5080, or email her at lshigemitsu@cslanet.calstatela.edu. For information regarding CSULA’s veterans services, visit /academic/registrar/vets.php.

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