Military and Veteran Alliance seeks to expand services

ROTC cadets present the colors at the Veterans Day event Nov. 11. The university officially opened the Military and Veterans Support Center thesame day.

UNA is taking steps to make the school a better place for military veterans to earn their degree and get the services they need.

Despite a slow start to the Military and Veterans Alliance, the group is picking up speed, said Advisor LTC Wayne Bergeron.

“We started this effort back in 2011,” Bergeron said. “Like most student organizations, they go through cycles. Life happens. We’ve gone through some ups and downs.”

The group researched other universities with military veteran student organizations and found most of them also had a designated space for the veterans to use, he said.

“Any university you talked to said having a place where military veteran students can call their own is the key to success,” he said. “A lot of universities take that space and put their Veterans Affairs folks in there.”

Most veteran students’ needs are different from the average college student, Bergeron said.

Having a space containing all veteran services is the ultimate goal, said Military and Veteran Alliance President Kandi Pike. She said she hopes the center will eventually contain all the services military veterans may need while in college in one location.

“When we get our bigger place, we will have offices for PTSD counselors as well as our VA rep,” she said. “We’ll also have like a conference room for meetings and anything like that for military personnel.”

UNA has a Military and Veteran Support Center on campus, but Bergeron said he thinks the group will soon need a bigger space. The university opened the center Nov. 11, Veterans Day, he said.

“Obviously, we aren’t quite there yet, but four years after we started the effort, we now have a veterans’ center space,” he said. “More and more vet students are starting to use it. We have a new set of officers who are very energetic and are trying to push it and get things done. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea.”

Bergeron said one of the barriers preventing having a larger space and more services is limited staffing for military and veteran services. However, he said the university is making steps to hire more personnel.

“It’s not that people don’t think it’s a great idea or don’t want to do it,” he said. “Like everything else, in a resource-constrained environment, you can’t just create new positions out of the air.”

“There has to be money there and all these things,” Bergeron said.

The university is in the process of hiring VA work study students to staff the center.

“(We need to have) someone (at the center) to answer questions, provide services and help (VA Specialist Michelle) Dailey out in reaching out to veterans,” he said.

University President Kenneth Kitts and all the vice presidents support the military and veteran support effort. Bergeron said administration is making plans to make UNA more veteran-friendly.

In addition to work with the veteran center, the alliance is planning a paintball tournament for April 27. Any students may participate in the event, Pike said.

Bergeron said he hopes the event will help spread awareness about the alliance.

“It’s only going to get better,” he said.