As part of that effort, a recent CUNY College Fair for Veterans, held in BMCC’s Richard Harris Terrace provided information on tuition assistance, military credit transfers, recognition scholarships, career counseling, accessibility services and other benefits to help veterans navigate their next academic steps, and weigh their options in a civilian world.
Admissions staff from all 23 CUNY colleges were on hand, as well as those from CUNY graduate and professional schools, the Mayor’s Office, New York and federal Departments of Labor, the Veterans’ Administration and many other agencies and organizations.
Good news about tuitionVeteran Joseph Phillips attended the Fair and is interested in the engineering program at BMCC, which appeals to him for its mentoring and special projects.
“I was in the Navy, an E-4 Petty Officer,” he said. “I went into the Navy right out of high school, Lehman High School in the Bronx. I was the kind of person who wanted to get right into a field, and that’s exactly what happened—I maintained small boats on an amphibious ship in Norfolk, Virginia, and now I’m more ready to go to school.”
Ninety-eight percent of his tuition cost, Phillips learned at the Fair, would be covered through New York State’s Veteran’s Tuition Award. In addition, according to Daniel Hyman of the CUNY Office of Admissions Services, “Undergraduate applicants who are veterans, on active duty or members of the National Guard or Reserves are exempt from the CUNY application fee waiver, which starts at $65.”
Re-entering the civilian workplace
Dan Woods, a military veteran who was stationed in Germany, has a bachelor’s degree but wants to boost his employability in today’s tough economic climate. “I’m looking at educational options at CUNY, continuing ed or some kind of job training,” he said.
Christopher Podgus, Senior State Veteran Counselor at the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs explained to Woods that the Post 9-11 GI Bill not only provides tuition assistance, it supports vocational or technical training, and covers the licensing or certification test fees that those trainings lead to.
“It’s imperative you know about this,” he said, and Jordan Chase, Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist with the New York State Department of Labor added, “A lot of veterans aren’t aware there are local veteran representatives in the New York State DOL that can help them with many things, including job search.”
In addition to providing leads to state and federal job assistance, the Fair hosted a number of local non-profit groups that offer career guidance, including USA Fitness Corps, an NYC-based organization that trains veterans to lead fitness activities in neighborhoods where childhood obesity, diabetes and other health issues are at stake.
American Indian House, Inc. was also on hand to let veterans know about their workforce training program, and Jorge Sánchez of the New York City Fire Department presented another employment option: Veterans interested in taking the City Firefighter Exam can have up to six years deducted from their age, enabling them to meet the less-than-29 age requirement.
An urgent message
“There’s a VA hospital in each borough,” Yvette Branson, a psychologist with the Brooklyn Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center reminded visitors to her table.
“Sometimes the transition home, back to the civilian world is difficult,” she said. “Relationships issues, financial issues, housing and health issues can arise. The intensity of being in a war zone is not like anything most people have ever experienced or can even comprehend.”
Her urgent message to veterans struggling with depression, having thoughts about hurting themselves or experiencing self-destructive behaviors such as those involving weapons or drug abuse is to immediately call a national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)—and press “1” for veterans.
She also gave out materials that address the complexity of “male depression,” which often goes undiagnosed, and presents differently from the depression experienced by women.
BMCC’s veteran efforts reflect CUNY-wide mission
“Our statistics at BMCC account for 256 veterans,” said Eric Glaudé, BMCC’s counselor specializing in veterans’ issues. “Of those individuals, 90 have maintained a 4.0 grade point average—partly because they’re disciplined, they have experience, and are more worldly, in a sense, than many other students. Plus, they are what I would call ‘mission oriented’—their mission is to be successful in school, to get that high grade.”
He noted that 68 of the veterans attending BMCC are women, including Liberal Arts major Zana Edmonds, whose courage in the line of duty earned decoration with one of the military’s highest honors, the Purple Heart.
Edmonds, he said, represents the hard-won resiliency of those who have served in active duty, many of whom endure post-traumatic stress disorder, compromised mobility and other physical conditions. “Veterans who sustain injuries, often have traumatic brain injuries,” said Glaudé, “because of the nature of the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs used now in Iraq and other combat zones.”
Part of his job, he explained, is connecting veterans with the BMCC Office of Accessibility Services, which facilitates accommodations to enable student success in class. Another facet is connecting them with services they didn’t know existed, but which impact directly on their ability to attend school.
“You would be surprised,” he said, “how many veterans who are New York City residents aren’t aware that they’re eligible for a Basic Housing Allowance through the Post 9-11 GI Bill.” That allowance, he said, will provide up to $1,000 in reimbursements for rent, for up to four years.
CUNY: A place for veterans
To continue discussions started at the dozens of vending tables, the College Fair offered two workshops; one that answered veterans’ questions about CUNY undergraduate admissions, financial aid and educational benefits, and another that provided information on applying to a CUNY graduate program.
“I was in the Navy for two years, an E-4 Petty Officer stationed in San Diego,” said Wesleyan, a young woman who gave her first name only. “I was a gunner’s mate; I cleaned and maintained weaponry, hand weapons and others. I’m originally from New York, so now I’m back, and I’m here today because I think it’s never too late to go back to school. I’m thinking of a career in law, particularly criminal justice, or business.”
Reaching out to veterans whose career and educational goals are as varied as the CUNY colleges and universities that serve them, a team effort pulled off the event, and was led by CUNY’s Office of Veterans Affairs, including Wilfred Cotto, University Coordinator for Veterans Affairs; Stephen Clark, Assistant to the Director of Disability & Veterans Affairs; Sonja Gomez, Webmaster for the Office of Enrollment Management and Mark O'Connor, Veterans Admissions Counselor.
Also attending the event was Robert Ptachick, University Dean for The Executive Office and ECUNY Dean for Enrollment Services, who oversees the CUNY-wide recruitment of student veterans.
“CUNY is the place for them,” he said. “We have the services, and the staff. We have just under 3,000 students who are veterans now, and that number is increasing every year. We’re able to provide auxiliary services that go beyond educational services, and we have a university-wide veterans effort. We know that veterans want to integrate with other students, but they also want to be able to find the support they need, and CUNY has made a place for them.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Resources for veterans available at the Fair included:
CUNY Office of Veterans Affairs Tuition assistance, job counseling, Application fee waiver and more.
New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs According to Ada Rehnberg-Campos, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, “We advocate for returning veterans, connecting them to housing, employment and other benefits and services.” Services include Operation Recognition (eligible veterans earn high school diplomas), property tax exemption and preference points for NYC Civil Service examinations.
New York City Fire Department Veterans interested in taking the City Firefighter exam can have up to six years deducted from their age, enabling them to meet the less-than-29 age requirement.
Upper Manhattan Workforce 1 Career Center Skill assessment, career development, job placement and other services.
American Indian House, Inc. U.S. Department of Labor/Workforce Investment Act training program.
New York State Department of Labor Employment, education and other benefits and services for veterans.
New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs Governor’s Program to Hire Veterans with Disabilities, New York State Combat Veterans Tuition Award and other benefits.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Health Benefits, counseling, employment services, Post 9-11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Post 9-11 GI Bill), Reserve Educational Assistance Program and more.