By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
Texas A&M University-Central Texas is looking to set the bar high when it comes to offering support for veterans and active-duty service members transitioning into students.
Such was the message conveyed on Thursday by TAMU-CT President Marc Nigliazzo during an open house for the college’s new Veterans Affairs center office at the main campus.
“We must do it. We must do it well,” Nigliazzo said, referring to the job of guiding veterans through the transition. “And what I say repeatedly is we must do it better than anyone. We must become a model ourselves.”
Judging by the veterans affairs center’s newest program, VetSuccess on Campus, TAMU-CT seems to be on its way to fulfilling Nigliazzo’s vision.
The program is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and TAMU-CT and is one of only eight in existence across the country. Although it was brought to TAMU-CT late last year, VetSuccess on Campus has only recently moved into the revamped office housing the veterans affairs center.
The program is exclusively for TAMU-CT students and offers a full-time counselor who facilitates a wide variety of services.
A few examples of services are helping navigate VA educational benefits, counseling for students with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and assistance with choosing health care benefits through the Veterans Health Administration.
Candice Lopez is the VetSucess counselor at TAMU-CT. Before taking up her new post, she spent 14 years at Fort Hood working with soldiers transitioning out of the military because of medical conditions.
Lopez said she envisions her current role as a “one-stop shop” for veterans, active-duty military members and their family members who attend the university.
“I have so many students who say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I was eligible for this,” Lopez said. “Just by coming in here, they often find out about benefits and services they didn’t know they could receive.”
One of the students who stopped by the open house Thursday was Shelly Walker, an Army veteran who was stationed in Germany before serving a tour in Iraq as a staff sergeant with the 13th Sustainment Command.
Walker said she has found Lopez’ office especially useful for clarifying her post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and the changes in store.
“It is nice to get one-on-one answers to your questions,” Walker said. “It’s easier to process information if someone is talking to you face to face.”