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What Can I Do for a Veteran?

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During our campus Veterans Day ceremony last year, Joe Buhain, our Respiratory Therapy program director and a Bronze Star Medal recipient who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said this: "Someone once asked me, 'What can I do for a veteran?' There are organizations you can volunteer with that help veterans. But if you can't volunteer, when you meet a veteran all he or she might need is a simple 'Thank you.' This alone is sometimes enough."

As individuals, none of us can ever really say "thank you" enough to those who protect our great nation. President John F. Kennedy once said, "The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it." All of us know a veteran -- whether a friend, a neighbor, a relative or someone on our campus. In our hearts, we thank them every day, but saying a simple "thank you" to a veteran, as Buhain suggests, is something we all can make a point of doing, especially on Veterans Day, November 11, 2012. Saint Paul College, as in years past, will be holding a special flag ceremony for Veterans Day so that we may formally honor those students, faculty and staff who have served in the armed forces of the United States of America.

Saint Paul College currently has 95 veterans enrolled and receiving veterans benefits. As an institution, our commitment to veterans is to serve them well and help facilitate their use of streamlined ways to obtain information about higher education by making such websites as the MyMilitaryEducation.org readily available on our website. Helping veterans make the connections for benefits due and promised them is the least any college or university can do. The transition to college life can be difficult for any student trying to balance work, home and school obligations in addition to the stress of studying. We assist every student with resources that helps them to be successful in college, including evaluation of their military credits for transfer to the program they intend to pursue.

With so many service men and women returning home and wanting to attend college, the MyMilitaryEducation.org site was developed by the Higher Education Veterans Programs (HEVP) and Minnesota Online to provide a one-stop location about educational opportunities and benefits to military personnel. We also keep abreast of new legislation such as the "VOW to Hire Heroes Act" and the resulting Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) authorized by the VOW Act. We are also grateful that the VOW Act makes the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for most service members.

We recognize that for veterans, particularly those who have served in dangerous war zones or hot spots around the globe, there is also the difficult readjustment from military to civilian life. We have a Veterans Center on campus designated for use by students, faculty and staff who are veterans or enrolled dependents of veterans. The Center contains computers, a sitting area for visiting/studying and veteran resources. Perhaps the greatest resources in the Veterans Center are the veterans themselves. The student veterans who staff the center are available to lend an ear or a helping hand. They can point veterans to important information such as educational benefits, mental health services and academic support resources.

At Saint Paul College, we, as individuals and as an institution, also have the responsibility of knowing how alienating deployment and living in war zones can be. It's our responsibility to keep the Veterans Center available. In the words of one of our veterans, "I had to adjust to the feeling that there was a war going on and I'd been in it, while everyone else had just continued on with their everyday lives." While those who serve in the armed forces are often facing life and death situations in their deployment, it is our job -- our moral duty as civilians -- to continue on with our everyday lives and make sure veterans have the wonderful American way of life to come home to that they are protecting. For as another of our veterans said, "It's nice to have a place of our own where we can come and relax. I always feel more comfortable with other veterans, especially those who have been deployed. The Veterans Center is a quiet spot where we can meet other vets, do homework or study between classes." The College is committed to the expense of running the Veterans Center because the value to our veterans, and so also to us, is immeasurable.

As a two-year community and technical college, our greatest and most important promise to our veterans must be one of providing education for employment. It is Saint Paul College's mission. Whether a veteran is pursuing truck technology, business management, respiratory therapy or starting the first two years of a four-year degree here, our "job one" is to continue to provide them with the best educational opportunity and learning environment that will give them a competitive edge in a tight job market. That's where we have an advantage with being so closely connected to business and industry. Successfully completing one of our programs and taking advantage of career placement in our Career Center or transfer advising in our Transfer Center is what will further assist veterans to effectively transition to civilian life.

We want our veterans to feel not only our sincerest gratitude for their service, but our support and to believe as we do, that at Saint Paul College, when "You start here, you can go anywhere!"