Veterans Affairs, Cal State L.A. | Nov. 5, 2012 | Spotlight

Building alliances for those who have served

Veterans Affairs office launches ‘ally’ program, hosts Veterans Appreciation Week

Photo: Lorie Judson and Tony Christopher.
L-r: Nursing Professor Lorie Judson and University-Student Union Building Coordinator Tony Christopher during a group discussion at the VET NET ALLY training on October 26.

He may not have served, but University-Student Union staff member Tony Christopher wants to be an “ally” of those who have. Christopher, along with 30 Cal State L.A. faculty and staff members, recently participated in the University’s inaugural VET NET ALLY program, a half-day seminar geared toward informing the campus community about the unique needs and concerns of military service members in higher education.

With the increased educational benefits of the post-911 GI Bill, the number of military veterans and military family members enrolled at Cal State L.A. has been growing. The Veterans Affairs office launched this training program this past October to create a campus network of “allies,” who are committed to providing support to CSULA students who have served in the armed forces.

“The main focus of the training is to assist members of our campus community in understanding what this population of students needs to become integrated into the college environment and succeed in their academic pursuit,” said Laura Shigemitsu, coordinator of the University’s Veterans Affairs office.

The VET NET ALLY program, originally developed at CSU Long Beach, is aimed at educating faculty and staff with information to assist the growing veteran population on college campuses. After completing the training, participants are given a decal to display at their workplaces.

Photo: Vet Net Ally decal.

The CSULA training covered such topics as reasons why men and women decide to join the military, the higher levels of education among military personnel, the diverse military population, veteran services and resources available on campus, and other veteran issues in higher education.

Addressing the attendees, Shigemitsu conveyed that it is important to acknowledge the existence of “invisible injuries,” in order to help student veterans transition from military service to civilian and university life.

“At the same time, we are very careful to specify that not everyone who comes back from combat has post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said. “It’s actually less than 20 percent of the total veteran population. We also discuss the differences between post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and combat stress.”

Rebecca Palmer, assistant director of Housing Services, shared that she participated in the VET NET ALLY training because student veterans often reside in the University’s Student Housing.

“I feel it is important to understand specific needs of these students who come with different life experiences, and to be able to help them to the best of my ability,” she said.

Palmer also indicated that she learned the importance of everyone being more conscientious in expressing their opinions about the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“People need to be aware that the students sacrificed and some even suffered to serve our country,” she added, “and that what one says can be hurtful and interpreted as being unsupportive.”

Christopher, whose father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and grandfather served in the Marines during World War II, said, “I have a lot of respect for military veterans. So, I participated in the VET NET ALLY program to find out what resources are available and the best way to connect the student veterans to them. I am always looking for ways to help all students feel welcome on campus.”

Photo: David Ono and Vincent Okamoto.
L-r: ABC anchor David Ono introduces Judge Vincent Okamoto, a U.S. army veteran who was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame, at last year’s Veterans Forum at CSULA.

Photo: screen capture of news documentary.
A screen image from David Ono’s “Witness: American Heroes” news documentary.

In its continuing efforts to foster a military-friendly campus, the Veterans Affairs office at CSULA will also host a Veterans Appreciation Week starting today, Nov. 5, at the University-Student Union Plaza. The event will kick off with musical entertainment by Marine Corps Sergeant Calvin Gines, who is a theatre major at CSULA. Gines will be followed with a presentation by CSULA’s Nursing Professor and Lt. Col. Lorie Judson along with members of the 349th Combat Support Hospital from the Army Reserves, who will discuss the role Army Nurse Corps plays in natural disasters and combat zones.

On Tuesday, The Mobile Veteran Unit from the Los Angeles Veterans Administration (VA) will be on campus in Lot 4 to assist students who need to sign up for VA medical benefits. The next day, Veterans Affairs will host a Warrior Game team-relay competition on the University-Student Union Walkway, where students will get to experience approximations of different skills that are developed in the military, such as building berms using cardboard boxes, tying knots, and carrying gear.

The week-long celebration will culminate on Thursday, Nov. 8, in the University-Student Union, San Gabriel Room, with a pre-screening of ABC anchor David Ono’s recent documentary on the Congressional Medal of Honor. Ono will be on hand to tell the stories of some of these decorated men, who were recognized for their bravery during World War II. The documentary is a follow up to Ono’s award-winning news piece, “Witness: American Heroes,” in which he interviewed veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.

“Come out and support your student vets,” said Gines, who hopes to become an actor after completing his academic degree at CSULA. “I will be singing several songs during the Monday performance.”

Cal State L.A. will be closed on Monday, Nov. 12, in observance of Veterans Day, which honors all the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces who have or are currently serving our country.

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