At UC Santa Barbara, veteran students have two main avenues of support from the university: the Veterans & Military Services and the Veterans Resource Center.
Veterans & Military Services (VMS) at UCSB is a center that provides support, assistance and a community for student veterans and military-related community members on campus.
“What VMS provides at a high level is a source for veterans and for military-related students and a way to support them,” Director of VMS Mike Fogelsonger said. “Whether it’s career services, counseling, financial aid — it’s kind of a one-stop shop solution to be able to give them guidance in all of that.”
The Veterans Resource Center (VRC) provides walk-in services for veteran and military-related students and serves as a place for them to study and socialize with students of similar experiences.
“[VRC] provides a place where [students] can meet, so it has a social aspect to it, but also a place for them to study,” Fogelsonger said. “We have a computer set up there, we have a printer set up and it’s open 24/7, so [students] can come in any time during the day or a weekend when they need a quiet place to study, do some research, print out papers or documents.”
The VRC also hosts events, like luncheons and educational information sessions from local Veterans Administration representatives, for the military-related student community.
Fourth-year veteran student and Chicana/oChicanx studies major Ramiro Detrinidad is participating in a work-study program through the VRC and said that the center went a full academic year without a director before Fogelsonger stepped in.
“[Being without a director] was hard, because that’s the intermediary. That’s the person in the middle that kind of is the connection between the coordinators and the financial people,” Detrinidad said. “He’s kind of like the one that hears us and sends a message out.”
Detrinidad said that an issue among veteran students is a lack of “interconnectedness” only exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Veterans like me, we were like, ‘OK, well, we can’t go to campus, we can’t effectively communicate with the staff, so we’re just going to just do what we have to do and just get out,’” he said.
Upon admission to UCSB after spending two years at Santa Barbara City College, Detrinidad described struggling with imposter syndrome that further made him feel excluded from the campus population.
“It’s very common in the military to say, ‘We’re gonna celebrate you but don’t get too comfortable,’ and it’s taken me a while to tell myself that I was good enough regardless of my status as a non-traditional student.”
His goal at the VRC is to increase interconnectedness among the veteran community at UCSB and build a strong support system within the center.
“We want to build something that’s going to interact with the community, because there’s so many factors that can discourage a veteran not to go to school, especially if you’re a veteran with a family, especially if you’re a veteran that’s already on the older side and can pick to be more practical instead [of] getting your education,” Detrinidad said. “Our main focus is making sure that every person that’s involved with the Veteran Resource Center is aware that we’re still open and that we’re still here.”
Due to lack of staffing at both the VMS and VRC, however, students have still encountered roadblocks in fully accessing its services. Second-year veteran student and sociology major Alyson Solis voiced her experience with not having sufficient aid in navigating the process ofthrough receiving her veteran benefits on time through the VRC.
In order to receive benefits as a student veteran, one is required to submit a Veteran Benefits Request Form (VBRF) at the start of every quarter, which is then submitted by the VRC to the Veterans Benefits Administration for them to processto process through and confirm the benefits being given.
“I would submit [the VBRF] right after I have all of my units and then it takes them two months to submit it to the VA,” Solis said, “At that point, it’s out of my hands and I can’t submit it to the VA myself, so there have been times where I will call the VA, and the VA is difficult to get a hold of already.”
This delay in receiving her veterans benefits forced Solis to have to pay out of pocket for her expenses, including rent and food, which should have been fully covered.
“Basically that entire time, I did not get any money because all of my paperwork wasn’t done right,” Solis said. “I wasn’t getting paid for that, so when I had to come out here, I basically had to pay my first month’s rent and security deposit with no assistance, making Texas income while trying to pay for a place in California.”
Solis emphasized the difficulty she has had in covering these expenses, saying that as a veteran, she was promised benefits that will cover her costs of living so that she could focus on her education without having to work.
“The whole idea is that as a veteran student, you wouldn’t need to get a job while going to school so you could focus on school,” Solis said. “But I have a job because I can’t just not pay rent, and I can’t just not have food.”
“I just have to get everything out of pocket and just budget differently, and let the money that comes [from the benefits] refill my pockets.”
Solis also spoke about the difficulty of getting a hold of people at the VRC through its appointment and phoning system.
“You have to contact the veterans’ coordinator and you have to schedule a meeting, from which they call you from a blocked number, so you can’t call back … So if you miss the call, that’s it. You have to schedule another appointment.”
However, Solis said she sympathizes with the VRC and understands the stress of submitting all of the veteran students’ paperwork on time, but she wishes that there was more transparency from the administration in communicating any issues with submitting forms for enrollment confirmation, veterans benefits and more.
“I get that people are being overworked, and it’s probably really difficult to submit everything at once within a [certain] time — I am a student, I know how difficult it is to meet deadlines,” Solis said.
“But [I’ve dealt with this] every quarter, for the past seven quarters, with the same issue, and I’m constantly in the dark [about] it. I don’t know when I’m going to get the money, I don’t know if my classes are going to be paid for, I don’t know if I have an extension, I don’t know if I’m going to be dropped from classes.”
This difficulty in adapting to the university experience is something that Detrinidad echoed, in terms of being among a campus population that often has vastly different personal experiences than him.
“I’ve had a very varied experience in terms of relating to a cohort that sometimes has no idea what you’ve been through,” Detrinidad said. “Sometimes that makes a lot of veterans feel out of place, but bringing that experience is so unique and so important to a classroom because it’s like you’re sitting right next to someone that probably didn’t have the same experience, and I think sharing that’s important.”
“I think it’s important to know that we’re here, despite having more experience than the average student, and I want veterans and military-dependents to feel like they do have a sense of belonging in this institution.