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Veterans Fight for More Resources at UCSB

Conditions Have Worsened, Frustration is Rising. Will the Administration Step Up?

It’s been nearly six months since former Special Forces soldier and current UCSB biology student Paul Malone embarked on his most recent mission to improve and expand the limited services offered to veterans on campus. His plight has been an uphill battle.

As president of the Student Veteran Organization, Malone assists veterans in their transition from soldier to student and addresses the various issues facing the student veteran community, which is armed with meager resources. While university administration has promised forthcoming improvements, Malone said he has seen a stark contrast between what has been promised and what has been delivered.

The challenges facing veterans were worsened when Jon Parra, a 20-year veteran of the military and the director of the independently funded Veteran Resource Team, resigned at the end of March. Malone attempted to explain some of the causes behind Parra’s departure, which eliminated UCSB’s last full-time staff position devoted entirely to veterans.

“He wasn’t finding himself effective here, and the infrastructure, I suppose, isn’t in place for him to do the things that need to be done for him to start and maintain a successful veterans program,” Malone said. “Now there is no one dedicated full-time to veterans as there used to be.”

Frustration at UCSB’s climate for veterans is not an isolated phenomenon. Ph.D. student and naval veteran Delores Mondragon described her experiences at UCSB as “intolerable” and said she “faced assault and harassment for being a veteran.”

Here at UCSB, Mondragon studies Military Sexual Trauma, a term that references experiences of sexual assault or harassment in the military, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating anxiety disorder that follows an experience or witness of a terrifying, traumatic or tragic event, as defined by the American Psychology Association. When she reported an incident of being attacked and threatened, however, her fellow students mocked her, implying that her report was merely indication that she suffered from the very disorder she studied. Even when she approached the Title IX office at UCSB, she did not receive much consolation.

“It was hinted by fellow students that my reporting of harassment was a condition of me possibly suffering from PTSD. I reported the incident to Title IX and they could not do anything even though I was grabbed, cussed at and threatened with future retaliation,” Mondragon said. “But this was seen as an exaggeration, and when I reported it to the dean, I was ostracized because I took it outside of the department — I was told things get handled in-house.”

Mondragon said she was only seeking the most basic level of courtesy and equal treatment for veterans.

“We just want to be treated as human beings,” she said.

This past week, the issue reached a critical point when Malone and another student veteran, Aaron Barruga, personally delivered a detailed and extensive list of grievances from the veteran community to the office of Chancellor Henry T. Yang. The letter described “cultural, administrative and resource failures that have hampered the integration and success of our student veterans,” and outlined specific action that the university should take to correct these failures.

The recommended actions included implementing a digital tracking and record-keeping system for enrolled student veterans, hiring a new, full-time Coordinator of Veteran and Military Services and establishing mandatory veteran awareness training for faculty and staff, which is similar to training provided for awareness of other minority groups.

The most urgent element of the letter regarded the appalling national rate of veteran suicide, which stands at about 22 people every day, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. In other words, a veteran takes his or her own life every 65 minutes.

Barruga, a former member of the military’s elite Joint Special Operations Command and current first-year economics major, explained the potentially deadly risks that are associated with not providing proper resources to “an entire demographic of students who are predisposed to testing positive” for PTSD.

“It’s such a pertinent issue because, if we were a Filipino culture club or whatever, the end state may be limited to, say, [the fact that] people would not appreciate our culture the way we wanted them to,” Barruga said. “Our end state is [that] a veteran is not going to feel socially accepted because he has PTSD. The culture here is going to unconsciously create distress for him and he’s going to go home and blow his fucking brains out. So our end state is very costly if we choose not to act.”

Clinical psychologist Kirsten Olson said it is essential for the university to provide additional services to student veterans, who she said are considered “non-traditional students” for a number of reasons.

“They are older, they are more likely to have families and they are more likely to have other sorts of problems that our traditional college students don’t have,” Olson said. “They are also more likely to have lots of strengths and life experience that other traditional students don’t have.”

Olson, who specializes in addressing PTSD issues in combat veterans, expressed support for Malone’s continued efforts for improvement, saying “there’s always more that can be done.”

“I think that’s why Paul’s leadership has been so great, because he’s acknowledging, ‘Right, UCSB has done a lot, but there’s more to be done,’” Olson said. “He’s trying to raise that awareness — that these are the next steps that need to be done.”

Malone, members of the administration and the Veteran Resource Team have been working relentlessly to relocate the Veteran Resource Center from its current 10-foot-by-10-foot room to a larger area, specifically Building 434, a structure located near Counseling Services that has remained vacant for over six months for unspecified maintenance reasons. Their efforts finally paid off yesterday, with the university informing veterans that the building would be allocated to them. The new space is, according to Associate Dean of Student Life and Activities Katya Armistead, more than twice the size of the current VRC, and could prove more accommodating to the population of more than 100 veterans and 350 veteran dependents on campus that it caters to.

A key concern raised by the letter was the amount of student veterans that have dropped out of UCSB since last year, which the letter stated was a quarter of the total student veteran population. In light of this number, the letter also stated that not enough efforts have been made to service student veterans.

“We have failed to educate, protect, and empower student veterans, as a university,” the letter stated.

With such high drop-out rates, Malone said there is a lack of concern for retaining student vets, which he said would not be such an issue for many other underrepresented students.

“There are a lot of communities where it would be simply unacceptable to lose a quarter of the population — that’s huge,” Malone said.

Armistead disputed the accuracy of the statistic by referring to veterans who delivered “statements of intent to register, but then did not enroll.”

“I believe that there was a misunderstanding on the numbers that the students were working with,” she said.

Even with her disagreement on the figures, Armistead said UCSB still needs to provide more to veterans on campus.

“I do believe that we need to do a better job supporting veteran students,” she said. “The goal is to hire a coordinator that focuses on supporting veterans. I believe this focus will help with improving retention.”

Several instances of potentially offensive and thoughtless language from university faculty was the final grievance expressed in the letter to the chancellor. In one instance mentioned in the letter, a tenured professor said of concerns surrounding student veterans and efforts to assist them, “What’s the worst that could happen? Suicide?”

The remark was made in the presence of a student vet, and Olson said such a statement runs contrary to the accepting and welcoming environment the university is supposed to hold for all students.

“We talk about having a climate of respect on campus and appreciating diversity, having respect for all different points of view,” she said. “But, making derogatory comments or dismissive comments about suicide — that wouldn’t be okay to say … in the Greek community in terms of fraternities or sororities. So why would it be okay to make dismissive comments about the veteran community?”

Additionally, the prevalence of suicide in the vet community is as concerning for vets, and should be treated as delicately, as it would be for any other student community, Olson said.

“You wouldn’t say ‘Who cares?’ if a queer person kills themselves, so why is it okay to say ‘Who cares?’ if a veteran kills themselves? It wouldn’t be okay to say that about any of our valued community members.”

Like Olson, Barruga said he found the comments unproductive and careless.

“When you start saying stuff that paints this picture that veterans are damaged goods — they come from lower class, they’re uneducated, just shit like that — it doesn’t help,” Barruga said.

Despite the long list of grievances, Olson provided insight regarding the progress that UCSB administrators have made toward veterans’ issues in the recent past. For example, Olson said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young has demonstrated consistent support for student veterans. Similarly, Executive Assistant to Chancellor Yang Diane O’Brien said members of the administration have, in fact, been working diligently to improve the state of affairs for veterans.

“I’m not trying to make any excuses. We’ve been working really hard with Student Affairs to help solve some of their issues,” O’Brien said.

Whether administration officials are indeed striving to improve the state of veteran affairs on campus or are engaged in conscious or unconscious negligence, a significant portion of the veteran segment in the student population continues to face a unique set of challenges. Speaking with many of them, it becomes apparent that some are dissatisfied with their treatment and experiences at UCSB. Still, according to Mondragon, they remain “skilled, responsible and prepared,” with a determination to work for a more equal system on behalf of their fellow veterans.


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Photos Courtesy of Paul Malone

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 10 edition of the Daily Nexus.

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9 Responses to Veterans Fight for More Resources at UCSB

  1. Hal Massey Reply

    July 13, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Hey vets— thanks for your service! (UCSB BSEE ’78)

  2. raoul duke Reply

    May 29, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Prior to the Tet Offensive, being disrespectful of a Vet would get your ass kicked, by a Vet.

    Since that time we have marginalized public service and military service. They people who choose to serve must be dumb or mindless drones.

    We need compulsory military service. Then maybe the pantywaists in the crowd would see that smarting off to a Sgt. Major will get your ass kicked, by that Sgt. Major, and you will learn a lesson… mess with the wrong people and you’ll get you ass handed to you.

    Violence keeps stupid people in check too you know.

  3. Alumni Vet Reply

    April 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Anon is just a troll who can only get an audience on the internet. Nice Article.

  4. Aaron Johnson Reply

    April 17, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Good write-up. Definitely needs to be looked into.

  5. Sylvia Garcia Reply

    April 12, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Thank you David Jackson for this wonderful article. It means a lot that you have written about the issues that Veterans deal with. While every Veteran is grateful for admittance, it is difficult not to notice how other Universities are stepping up to show their support. While more can be done, articles like this are definitely a catalyst to quicken that change and for that I salute you.

    Sylvia Garcia

  6. Paul Reply

    April 11, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    Wow “anon” where shall we begin?

    -You start with a refusal to read the argument but postulate against it. Okay.

    -Next is, “encouraging admin to dole out more money to veterans.” No one asked for a dime. We asked for space and cooperation. We have very generous private donors who are willing to help us financially. The quotation marks around the word veteran is confusing, perhaps you don’t know what a veteran is.

    -”Special treatment” well, I suppose if you believe we shouldn’t do anything to support anyone be they LGBT, minority, disabled, greek, immigrant, ESL, athlete, non-trad, etc. then you’ve got an argument.

    -Though I won’t use the eloquent phrase you did to describe reality, many of us indeed sat behind desks. A statement in which you contradicted yourself when said we all enlisted to kill people halfway around the world. It is clear you have trouble with concepts regarding how a military works.

    -”No marketable skills.” Okay, we could go down a list of jobs or “skills” that are usable in civilian life but you aren’t willing to read much, so let’s skip it. I assume you don’t mean the people who do the communications, logistics, electronics, or engineering, but probably are referring to your more standard infantryman or combat arms type. The type who learned to lead and proved their ability in conditions no one else has. Leadership is overrated right anon?

    -”A burden on the rest of us.” Are you inferring that all the veterans who got into UCSB are charity cases? Or just making a broad and ignorant statement about veterans in general?

    -”Live like a parasite,” If you are on board with affluent society not taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves, then you better fix aging real quick anon. Or you can just prepare to starve in the streets in your old age or disability. I’d point out that as (I hope) a taxpayer, you paid for the bullets and bombs and you either succeeded or failed to elect the people you wanted in office. This statement hurts people’s feeling sometimes because they like to maintain a few mental layers of separation from what is done in their names; but I’m sorry, as we are speaking plainly, you helped create any “parasites” that you are attacking, and therefore have a responsibility for them.

    -”Pay for your own tuition” We are. That was in the contract(a written or spoken agreement, esp. one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law.) we agreed upon with the government.

    -”Get a job instead of sitting on our ass” I guess I do a lot of sitting as a student. Got me. A lot of us are working jobs and raising families while attending this school. Next….

    -I addressed how you screwed up with your sitting behind desks comment. Let’s go further and throw a sexism accusation at you as well.

    And to conclude,

    -No one wants your buttcheek left or right, raise the ante you weasel.

    Paul Malone

  7. Jane Reply

    April 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Anon, you do realize you just succumbed to the type of person that is directly addressed in this article, right? You have shown yourself (or hidden behind an anonymous alias) to be an ignorant, hateful, ungracious person. You admit your failure to actually read the article in its entirety before making a moronic comment posted for the entire community to see. The Veterans, who do, in fact, fight for Americans freedom everyday so you do not have to leave the comforts of your dorm room just 100 feet from the beach, have proven they have a valid argument. While you have most likely never had to experience war, trauma or death, they did. It is true that not all of them are combat veterans, however, they still gave up a part of their life to support those veterans who did experience these traumatic events. You, Anon, have had the luxury of safety and freedom because of people like them. Veterans are attempting to transition to the life you’ve been so accustomed to your entire life, and yet you bash them publicly in their attempts to. What does that say about you?

  8. Don Lubach Reply

    April 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    The above comment was very distressing to me. I have had the good fortune of having UCSB student Veterans in my classes. Also, I serve on the UCSB Veterans Resource Team. While there is great diversity within our Veterans community, this is, overall an amazing group. Nearly every veteran I talk with is interested in giving to and/or engaging with our community in a significant way.

    I am sorry to learn that many of our veterans do not feel safe or welcome here. How many times do they suffer from non-signed missives like the one you wrote? I am not OK with any of UCSB’s traditionally underrepresented groups feeling unsafe or marginalized. Are you, Anon? It does not take a lot of money or resources to be welcoming. Listening and learning about the experiences of our students is free and the most powerful thing we can do.

    Don Lubach

  9. anon Reply

    April 10, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Truthfully, I didn’t completely read the article- I only skimmed it, but I can already tell it’s just another article encouraging administrators to dole out more money to “veterans” because they somehow deserve it more than all the other students at UCSB. Proof that this blind patriotism that is so infectious in our country has even made its way across college campuses, which are supposedly places where the students can think for themselves. So tell me what exactly have these “veterans” done for all of us which automatically merits them special treatment? How does enlisting in your twenties to kill people in another country halfway around the world keep Americans safe? How does having no marketable skills except how to follow orders (which isn’t much of a skill come to think of it) make you guys anything more than a burden on the rest of us? Just because you threw away your youth to “serve your country” or whatever bullshit they’re peddling these days doesn’t entitle you to live like a parasite for the rest of your years. Pay for your own damn tuition like everyone else: get a job instead of sitting on your ass and waiting for a government check. I’d bet my left buttcheek 90% of you guys sat behind desks and scratched your balls everyday.

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