Iraq War veteran Lani Kelp, who is working on his secondary education degree at Eastern Washington University, sometimes needs to get away from the crowds at the Cheney campus.
Like thousands of post-9/11 veterans, Kelp is using the GI Bill, which includes full tuition and fees for those who qualify, to go back to school. And like many veterans, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service.
“For me sometimes, there are a lot of people running around campus, and there are times when I would sit in my car and wait because there wasn’t a place for us to go,” Kelp said.
EWU hopes to change that.
To facilitate veterans’ unique needs, the college is opening a Military Service Center this summer.
The center, which will be located on the first floor of Showalter Hall, will help veterans with critical services, including counseling on the right classes for their degree program. It will also provide resources, such as financial aid, as they integrate back into civilian life and learn to navigate the university system.
“The Center will also provide veterans with an important venue to meet fellow soldiers,” said Stacey Morgan Foster, vice president for Student Affairs. “Eastern believes this type of military support center will bring student retention rates among veterans to a level that exceeds the general student population.” Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are returning to the states, and it’s expected that a large percentage will enroll in college.
About 82 percent of post-9/11 veterans have taken advantage of the GI Bill, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
More than 500 veterans are already enrolled at EWU, and that number is expected to grow by 10 percent in coming years.
In addition to centralized services and a place to socialize, the center will also offer a computer lab and conference/workshop space.
The Military Service Center is being funded through existing resources, college officials said. Other funds will be sought, such as grants and private donations, to “support this significant effort,” said EWU President Rodolfo Arévalo. The annual cost of running the center will be about $250,000, including a director, an adviser/recruiter, a veterans’ benefits coordinator, graduate assistants and faculty liaisons.
While Community Colleges of Spokane has veteran services offices, clubs for vets and a dedicated lounge at Spokane Community College, EWU hopes to set an example for other regional colleges in creating a centralized location for veterans.
Said Arévalo, “It will deliver exceptional support services to address the personal and academic needs of active-duty and former military personnel, their spouses and dependents.”