A day before Veteran’s Day, UC Berkeley Veteran Services held an open house Monday for its temporary new headquarters in Stiles Hall, celebrating an increase in services and community space for student-veterans.
The location was established with a gift of more than $500,000 from veteran and UC Berkeley alumnus Coleman Fung, who graduated in 1987. The center consolidates the previously scattered services for student-veterans and offers them a shared area to hold community meetings and study. The funding will also provide an outreach professional as well as paid internships and work-study opportunities.
There are about 250 student-veterans on campus — a number expected to double in five years due to soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Without a doubt, (the center) is very essential,” said Nick Orlando, a political science major who served in the Marine Corps. “It can sometimes be confusing transitioning back to school for veterans. This center is a focal point for people to get what they need to be on a level playing field.”
Orlando said that despite UC Berkeley’s reputation for opposing war, he felt that the campus is more supportive of veterans than other colleges that do not have comparable student centers.
“I am allowed to be different in a place that’s different,” he said.
Brian Vargas, a social welfare major who also served in the Marine Corps, said the campus’s veteran services liaise between him and the campus. As a result of their support, he was able to attain additional time on exams, which he needs due to a traumatic brain injury that affects his short- and long-term memory. He uses the location as a quiet study space and said it’s a “home away from home.”
The veteran service center’s former location was two small offices in the Cesar Chavez Student Center. The gift will fund the Stiles Hall location for two years, until campus veteran services attain a permanent on-campus site.
The center includes a new legal services office, which — according to Luis Hernandez, academic achievement counselor for student veterans — already has a full caseload. Hernandez said much of the office’s legal advice centers on upgrading paperwork for veterans who were dishonorably discharged and did not receive benefits during the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. The legal aid is available not just to students but to any community veteran.
The center will hire an outreach staff member who will connect with veterans at community colleges and help them apply to UC Berkeley. The outreach member will also contact UC Berkeley student veterans to spread awareness of the center’s programs.
“The space is a home base within campus,” Hernandez said. “There’s a different culture within the veteran population, and being able to express themselves freely but still be close to campus is important for them.”
At the open house, Fung said he felt connected to the campus’ student veterans because of shared experiences, despite differences in age.
“We have to do more to make sure we don’t leave any veteran behind,” Fung said. “Soldiers don’t make the decision to go to war — they commit sacrifices for their country.”