Veterans Resource Center available on West campuses
WORTHINGTON -- With more than 3,000 Minnesota National Guard soldiers anticipated to return home from active duty in Iraq next March, newly developed Veterans Resource Centers are cropping up on college campuses across the state to help citizen soldiers access their education benefits.
Funded through a five-year, $600,000 annual appropriation by the state legislature, the Veterans Resource Centers will assist veterans in accessing their GI benefits. The program is hoped to provide interested veterans with a fresh start when they return from the war zone.
Patricia Arnold is one of six Regional Veterans Service Coordinators hired to assist veterans enrolling in higher education programs. Based on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in Marshall, she will oversee Veterans Resource Centers (VRCs) on the SMSU campus, Martin Luther College in New Ulm, the University of Minnesota-Morris and all five campuses of Minnesota West. A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marines, she began her new role in August.
Arnold joined local and regional veterans service officials in Worthington Wednesday morning to host a Veterans Resource Center open house on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West. She hopes to eventually have office space on the local campus, which she anticipates staffing one day per week. In addition to helping veterans obtain their education benefits, VRC staff will answer questions about medical or employment benefits to which they are entitled.
"The Worthington area has a fair amount of veterans," Arnold said. "There's going to be a large amount of veterans that will continue to seek college funding. We're finding that the need is there.
"We're here to support our veterans," she continued. "I would rather see our veterans use their education benefits before they lost them."
VRC services are available to veterans of all branches of the military, the Reserves and the National Guard. However, reaching all of those who qualify for the benefits is a nearly impossible task. Arnold has access to the names of individuals serving their country through the National Guard and Marines, but does not have information relating to those serving in the regular branches of the military.
"I want to get educational packets to the families of deployed veterans, so when they come home from deployment, they've got the paperwork," Arnold said. She is also considering developing packets on available college courses and programs to send to soldiers to review while they are serving overseas.
Arnold encourages family members of active-duty military branches to contact her and share addresses of their soldier. Not only does she want to send them educational materials, but also, she said some student groups, especially at SMSU, have expressed interest in sending care packages to soldiers.
"The communities want to help," she added.
Although the state has appropriated funds to maintain VRCs on college campuses for five years, Arnold believes the program will be continued beyond that time.
"I see it lasting more than five years," she said. "I just don't see the war ending any time soon.
"In the meantime, we're going to take care of our veterans."