Through a number of services and programs, the Vet Centers of Saddleback and Irvine Valley College help veterans’ transition comfortable back into day-to-day life.
The counselors on campus guide the vets towards the best course of action that will get them settled as quickly and comfortably as possible.
Dean of Transfer, Career and Special Programs Terrence Nelson said, “We have many combat vets. We’re the college that’s just north of Camp Pendleton. North Base Camp Pendleton houses the infantry units. So it’s most of the combat, the tip of the spear, guys that have seen the bulk of the work in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a higher propensity of service-connected disabilities. Such as tinnitus in the ear, brain injury, or PTSD…We have a lot of guys who have seen a lot of tough combat.”
Saddleback is able to accommodate the students by providing them with an enclosed, quiet study area that only Vets can use. “They really like a set aside study area away from the general students to be around a like kind of cohorts, makes them comfortable. So not only do we have the study room, but also the noise cancelling headphones. Helps with focus,” Nelson said.
The counselors of the Vet Center are constantly looking for ways to help their students. Instead of having their students drive out to meet with off-campus support, the counselors arrange for that support to be brought to campus.
“We don’t believe in duplicating services, so we bring them on campus and build the relationship,” Nelson said. Some of the services include: Veteran’s Service Officer, The Vet Center for Counseling Therapy for War Vets, and the Laguna Hills Health Clinic.
Both Saddleback and IVC have full time counselors on campus to help Vet students figure out which educational path is best for them. IVC has Mark Minkler and Saddleback has Kolin Williams.
IVC was recently granted a $50,000 dollar check from the Wells Fargo Group to expand their Vet Center and its services. Both Minkler and Williams see hundreds of vets a year and assist them with psychological and career counseling.
Minkler has been a vet counselor for 10 years, and joined the IVC team a month ago to help the student vets for that campus. “I’m the counter-part to the vet counselor at Saddleback,” Minkler said. He helps vets in the same fashion that Williams does by helping to create solutions for “anything that stands between [vets] and their educational career goals,” Minkler said.
Both counselors work exceptionally hard to make sure the needs of their students are taken care of.
”[Williams] sees over 625 counseling sessions per semester. Which is phenomenally high…He’s the key to the first part of the veteran’s services. I also release him to go out to camp Pendleton every Thursday. Before folks are discharged, he helps them with counseling before they get out of the military. It’s something very different than most institutions do,” said Nelson.
Even with all the support that student vets receive from the hired professionals, the Vets Center believes in peer-to-peer counseling and interaction. “We have the veterans club, the most active club on campus. Last year they held a lot of events,” said Nelson. There is also peer-to-peer mentoring and study groups held in the Vets Center.
While vets use the G.I. Bill to pay for tuition and housing while going to school, most still needs jobs to pay the bills and buy food. “[Saddleback] also helps many of the student vets with employment while they’re here…[The Vet Center] typically hire 5 or 6 vets to work on campus. Overall, the campus hires 20 to 25 students a year. We’re able to get them on-campus jobs so that they can focus on their studies,” said Nelson.
Vets also get to look forward to the Sept. 25 Veteran’s Resource Fair. It will be the fifth fair that the Vets Center has hosted and over 50 organizations will be there to show the different ways they can help vets transition back to civilian life.
One of the major contributors is Patriots and Paws, a pet adoption organization. A lot of veterans who are living on their own sometimes struggle with depression and feelings of loneliness. Patriots and Paws provides an animal that the vet can feel connected to, said Nelson.
It is quite impressive all the measures one institution is willing to make in order to provide the best possible academic experience for a group of students.
Being a wartime veteran can be rough, and thankfully the Vet Center is able to ease some of the burden for those students.