Campus hosts 1st ever veterans town hall to promote outreach

Aditi Raghunath/Staff

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UC Berkeley, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, held its first ever veterans’ town hall Tuesday to connect veterans with local health care and campus services.

The town hall, which took place in the campus’s Alumni House, featured representatives from campus and local veterans affairs organizations, with the goal of allowing veterans to more directly access the resources available to them. An important aspect of the meeting was to help veterans break through the bureaucracy surrounding veteran services and to address concerns veterans had with the VA.

“They just cut you off, or they keep transferring you from department to department,” said U.S. Army veteran Sharon Smith at the town hall, describing her experience dealing with the VA. “You can’t get through.”

While most of the attendees at the town hall were representatives from healthcare and veteran services groups, there were also about six veterans who asked questions. Despite the event’s low attendance, VA Public Affairs Officer Tara Ricks said the meeting had succeeded in helping the veterans who attended.

Veterans at the event spoke about issues with the VA, as well as the process of dealing with the transition from the military to college.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to navigate new, different forms of bureaucracy,” said Jennifer Eddy, a UC Berkeley student and U.S. Army veteran. “Fortunately, the Cal veteran services (staff) is incredibly knowledgeable.”

Speakers at the town hall discussed various veteran services available in the Bay Area and took questions from veterans in the audience. In attendance were VA directors from the Northern California and San Francisco Veterans Health Care System, representatives of the Veteran Benefits Office in Oakland and representatives from UC Berkeley’s Veteran Student Services.  

Ron Williams, director of re-entry student and veterans services at UC Berkeley, pointed out that veterans often encounter challenges during the transition from military life. These veterans are generally older than other students and may have families and full-time jobs, according to Ricks.

“There’s a lot of incredibly bright, qualified veterans that can excel at (UC) Berkeley,” Eddy said. “A lot of the time they don’t look for all of the resources that they are entitled to.”

Williams said that veterans exemplify UC Berkeley’s commitment to public service and that through their attendance at the school, veterans contribute this commitment to the rest of the campus community.

David Stockwell, director of the VA Northern California Health Care System, said at the town hall that the VA wants to simplify the process of calling the department. The VA Health Care System recently clarified that process by narrowing down thousands of numbers to around 35 numbers that are always answered.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected].