Daytona State College will open a new Veteran’s Center this fall to meet the needs of a surging population of military servicepersons starting new missions as college students.
The center will be housed and fully staffed on the Daytona Beach Campus. Veterans Administration work study students who have military backgrounds also will staff offices on each regional campus to assist vets seeking help with everything from filing for Post-911GI Bill benefits and other student services to referrals for assistance inside and outside the college.
“This is a growing trend across the country,” said Director of Academic Advising LeeAnn Davis, who, along with Director of Student Disability Services Miguel Rivera, this spring proposed the center in anticipation of thousands of military service members returning home from overseas and taking advantage of their Post-911GI Bill benefits. Both veterans themselves, they recognized the need for the college to provide a place where former servicepersons can go to get help with enrollment, filing for benefits and also to network with other veterans. “This is a way to encourage veterans to attend Daytona State College and to show them that we appreciate the sacrifice they made for us when they served their country,” Davis said.
The news is welcomed by Kassiem Gibson, who in 1995 began a 10-year stint split between the United States Marines and Navy, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He received training as a dental technician in the Navy and when he was discharged, he worked for a time in a dental clinic under contract with the Mayport Naval Air Station in Jacksonville. But when that contract expired, Gibson found himself out of a job and unable to find another.
“It had become clear to me that the only way I was going to find a job that I could keep and grow with was to first get an education,” he said. So he turned to Daytona State, where today he is working on his associate of arts degree (AA) in psychology and also serves as president of the Veterans Society of Daytona State College Palm Coast Campus student organization (which, incidentally, recently helped raise nearly $400 for the Wounded Warrior Project). Gibson, 39, plans to ultimately become a psychologist and work with other veterans.
He suggested the value of having a Veteran Center at Daytona State is immeasurable in terms of helping Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in particular assimilate back into civilian life.
“I found it easy because I was fortunate to get a job for a time in a military setting, even though I wasn’t in the military anymore,” he said of his contract work at NAS Jacksonville. “Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to assimilate. For many of the guys I know, especially those who saw combat, that’s usually not the case.”
At a recent club meeting, several members spoke of those difficulties, ranging from dealing with the federal bureaucracy when filing paperwork to finance college costs, readjusting to family life and finding employment. Others spoke about their experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and simply trying to fit in as civilians.
“There are waves of us coming back,” Gibson said, pointing to his fellow veterans, “and we are all examples of the re-acclimation process and how difficult it can be.”
A good chunk of that wave already is attending Daytona State. In 2006-2007, 361 veterans were enrolled at the college. Thus far this year, not including summer semesters, 744 have enrolled. These numbers also do not include those veterans who are not receiving GI Bill benefits because they either have already used them or have transferred them to another family member.
“Many of our veterans have had to see horrific things and lost friends, brothers and sisters in defense of our country,” Rivera said. “They are now coming home and need to be retrained to be successful in life, and they need all the help and support we can give them. This is one small thing we can offer to help them be more successful in their new life.”
More information for veterans attending Daytona State can be found at www.DaytonaState.edu/veteran.