SGA: UNA should be more ‘military friendly’

Members of the U.S. military who have deployed to combat can choose any university in the nation to attend for an undergraduate degree when their service ends.

To accommodate service members, SGA passed a resolution allocating $25,000 to create a campus veterans center in April 2012. Since then, the money has sat unused because the center has not been put in place.

“Having a veterans center was a big concern for students two years ago, and it still is now,” said SGA senator Laura Giles. “Basically the money we allocated was for anything they needed to set up the center.”

Giles said with an abundance of other large-scale projects on campus, the center has fallen off the radar as a priority with the university.

“Once the Military and Veteran’s Alliance found a location in the GUC, the university was supposed to hire staff, but that didn’t happen,” Giles said.

The approximately 200 veterans who attend UNA are older than traditional students, and they face unique challenges, said retired Lt. Col. Wayne Bergeron.

While many are married and some have children, several others have deployed to combat and come back with some type of injury, Bergeron said.

He said when they start to register for classes, they have to figure out what credit they will receive for their military training and what credit they will receive for college classes taken while they were in the military.

“Freshmen coming in, all they really need is their high school transcript, an acceptance letter, financial aid or mom and dad’s money,” Bergeron said. “Right now, when a veteran walks on this campus, there’s not one single place for them to go like there is at a lot of other universities — to be honest, like our competition.”

Freshman Tiana Hollingsworth said delaying the opening of the veterans center goes against everything UNA stands for.

“UNA is all about helping people succeed,” Hollingsworth said. “The university should do all it can to help those students achieve their dreams and build hope in them that they can do anything they want to do.”

Many universities cater to the needs of veteran students by having a well-staffed military and veterans center to assist veteran students in both the enrollment process as well as any challenges they may face as a day-to-day student, he said.

Giles said Bergeron was hired as a contractor to set up the center, but because the center was not a focus of the university, he was brought on as a criminal justice professor.

She said helping the students is left to people who volunteer their time to advise veterans.

“It’s not their job to advise,” she said. “It would be the jobs of the people in the center if we had it. They’re just doing it anyway because these people need help.”

The centers are typically staffed by veterans who have an understanding of the unique language used by those who have been in the military, Bergeron said.

“We don’t have a standing military and veterans affairs program here at UNA. We have Ms. Jeanne Kilpatrick in the registrar’s office, and she takes care of paperwork for GI Bills. But that’s only half of her job.”

Students Braxton Pace and Michael Davis said employees should not be overworked to do a job someone else is supposed to be doing.

“It’s not fair to those people or the students,” Pace, a junior, said.

Bergeron said having one central office where veterans could go is something UNA needs, and he plans to be knocking on the door of the next university president with hopes of getting an office set up.

Pace said the money SGA allocated to pay for the center should not be sitting unused.

“If the center is what’s important to students and they raised the money to pay for it, the university should get people hired,” Pace said.

He said anything that will help veterans will benefit campus.

“The fact they got the money shows people care about it, so it should be a priority,” Davis, a senior, said.

Editor’s note: News Editor Ashley Remkus contributed to this report.