Giant Step for Student Veterans Organization

Kate Baxendale

UMKC’s SVO made great progress on Veterans Day at the Student Government Association meeting. The student senate passed a resolution to designate a Service Members Secondary Council within SGA and the Student Activity Fee Committee.

Additionally the student senate passed the resolution “Proposal for a Feasibility Analysis of a Veterans’ Affairs Coordinator in the Office of Student Involvement.”

SVO President Jude Castro presented a case for both resolutions, explaining how the SVO can assist incoming and current students, veterans, family members and anyone connected with a service member. He mentioned the Missouri SVO Conference hosted by the University of Missouri in May and that UMKC was the only school to report any tangible services for veterans on campus.

Both issues will be on the spring 2014 ballot for UMKC students to vote. If passed, SVO will be provided a seat on the student senate in the spring and a Veterans’ Affairs Coordinator would be implemented in fall 2014.

“SVO has been trying to get on the senate since we started in 2009, but it’s never worked out,” said SVO Vice President Matt Charley. “Either people lost interest or they didn’t follow up with it. This year we had a lot of support and we did a lot of work.”

Castro has been attending the last several SGA meetings.

“Just to show that I am interested in what the procedures are because after my term is done I want to be on the secondary council for the military, so I just wanted to have a more official understanding of how everything works,” Castro said. “And also to let everyone now that I’m here and we have a presence.”

Castro has been researching other SVOs at other Missouri colleges and comparing them to UMKC.

“If you were to go to other schools and see what they offer service members, we don’t even have half of what they have,” Castro said. “The University of Missouri sponsored a Missouri SVO conference back in May. This was a kind of a think tank for comparing what each school has. When everyone went around and said what they had to offer service members, all we had to say was that we had just recently gotten a full time certifying official. But that official is not through the VA [Veterans Association] so she can’t really work with the VA hand in hand.”

UMKC has a VA Certifying Official who checks all student veterans’ documents to ensure they are receiving benefits.

Charley, however, said this is not enough.

“They [UMKC] have a veteran’s support council, which is basically people from every department and office around campus,” Charley said. “And what they do is get together and do the bare minimum to meet the requirements to get that accreditation.”

UMKC was placed on the 2014 Military Friendly schools list, which includes schools within the top 20 percent of institutions nationwide that provide the best experience for veterans.

“The criteria to be on the list does not necessarily make you the best fit,” Castro said. “So comparing to other schools in the University of Missouri [system] yes, we do have a certifying official…”

Charley said UMKC is not using all the resources it could be to further support for student veterans.

“They [UMKC] know that they have 400 veterans on campus,” Charley said. “So they could have four VA work study positions, which is student veterans who do work specifically for veterans on campus. They haven’t even hired those positions.”

Castro added that these positions are paid for by the VA, not the university.

Charley served in the U.S. Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla. from 2002 to 2008. Once he was released, Charley stayed in Florida for one year before returning to his hometown of Kansas City to study accounting at UMKC.

“I knew I was coming to Kansas City because that’s where I’m from,” Charley said. “I knew I wasn’t going to go to school in Florida because I have more of a network up here with my family and everything.”

Castro served as a Marine from 2003 to 2011. As a reservist, he was stationed at  (now closed) Richards-Gebaur  Air Force Base in Belton, Mo. He was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany for the last six years of his term on active duty. Castro chose UMKC for its dental school program.

“I chose Kansas City because I’m from New York and I thought it would be a similar environment to where I grew up,” Castro said. “I didn’t really know anyone, so after my first semester I looked into joining a fraternity and I joined SAE [Sigma Alpha Epsilon]. I was looking for that support and that’s where I found it.”

Both Castro and Charley explained the difficulty of transitioning from the military to civilian life.

“Veterans or service members are not used to knowing when they might need help, so having resources or a person that is readily available is important because that person can acknowledge when someone is struggling and point them in the right direction,” Charley said.

Castro attested this challenge to the rigid structure of military life.

“In the military you were taught to work through problems and you have your comrades there to help you through it,” Castro said. “But once you’re out of the military you’re on campus with all the other students. They have been in the academic environment, so they are used to going to SI [supplemental instruction] or the computer center whenever they need help. So their mentality is already like that, but our mentality is not like that because that is not conducive to how the military is structured.”

Castro said having a Veterans’ Affairs Coordinator at UMKC would be beneficial for student veterans struggling with this transition.

“This proposal is taking a big step for UMKC to be on par with other schools in the area,” Castro said. “We have so many guys that transfer from here to Park or to Avila because they are more military friendly. So they have to drive an extra 30 or 40 minutes because UMKC is not as friendly as these other schools.”

Charley added that UMKC is the only public university in the area and it does not offer enough services for student veterans, while local private schools like Rockhurst University and Avila University capitalize in this area.

“The university just doesn’t see the benefit there,” Charley said.

UMKC’s SVO has partners, non-profit organizations that serve as a professional and supportive network for SVO members. Team Red, White & Blue is a national organization that strives to engage veterans in physical and social activities in the community. SVO member David Wandel started a team at UMKC that works out twice a week.

“Basically they try to get veterans in the community to come out and participate in physical activity to integrate back into the community,” Charley said.

Charley is the regional coordinator for Team Rubicon, SVO’s other partner. Team Rubicon uses veteran skills to aid in disaster relief.

“We just sent 15 or 20 people to the Philippines this past week, we sent 300 people to help with the cleanup after Hurricane Sandy and we were recently down in Oklahoma as well,” Charley said.

SVO is having a Toys for Tots drive from Nov. 21 through Dec. 6. Participants can donate new toys for children in need on the ground floor of Miller Nichols Library and at the UMKC Bookstore in the Student Union.

SVO is also having an ongoing denim drive to collect supplies that can be reused for housing installation in homes built by Habitat for Humanity. Donations can be deposited at the SVO office, Student Union Room 303B; Alpha Phi Omega’s office on the third floor of the Student Union Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, 5340 Rockhill Road; and Beta Theta Pi house, 5229 Rockhill Road.