New office assists returning veterans

Ian Postal

It’s hard to miss the ongoing construction of the Veteran’s Memorial in the Saddleback College Quad being built in honor of war veterans. But what some may not be aware of is that the new office that has been set up to help veterans navigate the educational system here at Saddleback.

Opening at the start of the semester, the Veterans’ Education Transition Services Office hopes to bridge the gap between military service and higher education. More than that, they wanted to create a place where these veterans are comfortable and among friends.

Assistant Dean of Counseling Services Terence Nelson has made this program a personal project of his. Nelson said that a few of the major things they intend to offer are “counseling and connection to the school environment.” He also wants to help those new to college find their path with a new class on educational and vocational planning, jokingly referred to as “From Boots to Books.” But Nelson emphasizes that one of the most important goals is to build a “peer-to-peer community” between all the veterans involved.

Composed largely of volunteers, Nelson said that they hope that this office can serve as “a compass from application to graduation.” While they admit this sort of phrase may be a bit cliché, they also believe it is a good measure of their intentions and goals.

Volunteer and former marine Tony Belot, 29, political science, is involved by helping those who are coming back from service and are looking to get an education.

The volunteers are trained to know how to deal with what comes with veteran applications and education. They also help vets find jobs or housing, have a voice in the student government, and help them connect with the community.

Ann Reeder, 45, women studies, has volunteered for a workstudy with this new office after years of service in the Army. Reeder said she was “happy to be a part of it,” while emphasizing that such program is way overdue.

One person eager to accept the help being offered to him is Jim Curatella, 26, medical lab technician, who came to Saddleback last year after being discharged from the Marines. He believes that there wasn’t that much at first to help out veterans going strictly from the GI Bill. Before, getting help from the student aid offices had people sending him all over the place to get what he needed.

“Here all the resources are concentrated and combined in one place and not hidden,” Curatella said. With VETS, he can find people versed in what he needs to know to get on the right path, including “counseling, overall advice and financial aid.”

In all, this new office holds itself to the goal of helping people who have given so much to help this country. Everyone involved reports they are glad to be part of what they feel is a grand service that helps a group in need of help. As Nelson said, speaking of the memorial, “Where that statue is the symbol of the support for our veterans, this office is the substance.”