By Victoria Cisneros and William Ramirez
There is a push on campus to create a larger space for student veterans. Leading that effort are two senators from Associated Students, Inc (ASI).
Eyes are set on a Veterans Resource Center, which is envisioned to give veterans on campus better services like those at other California State Universities.
The Veterans Certifying Office in the north lobby of the Joyal Administration Building is the only space dedicated specifically for veterans. It’s currently staffed with only one full-time official who can legally certify coursework.
Certifying officials are tasked with verifying and submitting coursework and eligibility forms to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs so funds can be disbursed to the student veterans.
Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Frank Lamas said the committee is currently searching for a second full-time certifying official.
“The committee has been looking hard at applications and deciding who to bring in for interviews,” Lamas said. “My understanding is, at this point, we have interviewed a few folks.”
Lamas said he’s waiting on a committee to recommend applicants before anyone is hired.
“Certifying officials are the only ones that can actually make veterans’ benefits a reality,” said Travis Childress, ASI senator of Greek affairs who has been a proponent for a larger resource center. “They are the most important person on the campus to veterans because they authorize the money.”
Childress said that veterans on campus are interested in a consolidated Veterans Resource Center like those found at other university campuses.
Cody Sedaño, ASI senator of veteran and transfer affairs, agrees. He said a resource center would be a “one stop shop.”
The interest in a center and a second certifying official was brought to Lamas’ radar by a committee whose primary focus is veteran’s needs and from two separate CSU veteran center directors.
They put together a report that helped dictate where veteran resources were lacking the most. A top priority was hiring the second certifying official.
“We were really listening to our veteran students and our community to see what it is that they wanted,” Lamas said. “Initially, there were some that wanted more of a lounge space, some that wanted more of a space with our counselors; some wanted all three, so we had a lot of dialogue about what was best.”
A mobile trailer has been set up across from the Engineering East Building to address these problems. Lamas explained during the Oct. 4 ASI student senate meeting that the small space is not ideal, but it’s what is available now. Lamas said he hopes the trailer will be ready for use by Veterans Week, Nov. 5 to 11.
The trailer will be a space “where we are going to move [the] staff member we have now and the one we are hiring very soon,” Lamas said.
Sedaño said he is grateful to campus administration for its willingness to address this issue.
The next step, it appears, will be to find a place where a Veteran Resource Center can be placed, if that is ever something approved at Fresno State.
“Our campus is a vast campus with a lot of space, but there was no space that I had that I could just say, ‘Well, I’m just going to repurpose this space,’” Lamas said.
The trailer will be home to the center until next August, Lamas said. By then, he added there should be a space other than the certifying office in the Joyal Administration Building.
A Veterans Resource Center was proposed to be included in the Bold New U, which was defeated in a student vote. However, the possibility of a center finally materializing in the “New Student Union” would require a referendum vote on the student union.
Meantime, a permanent solution for veteran resources may require action outside the “New Student Union.”
Childress proposed “creating a grant or an account that we can start fundraising towards in order to build a stand-alone Veterans Resource Center somewhere on campus.”
He said that even if it takes a few years to fundraise and complete, a stand alone center could not only benefit veterans, but also increase the value of the campus.
Lamas said that one big issue with relying on the New Student Union as a home for the Veterans Resource Center is the amount of time it could take for the student union to be built.
“Even if the referendum were to pass – and there’s no guarantee that it will pass – then we’re looking at, easily, another four or five years before that building gets built,” Lamas said. “So we did not want to wait that long before providing our veterans with important services and things that they need.”