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Forgotten heroes

“I have never been thanked before,” says the elderly gentleman in the hospital room illuminated by the afternoon’s setting sun, “Vietnam.” As the man in the Portland Veterans Affairs Hospital quietly cries he holds the hand-made thank you card on his chest. The hospital is silent and warm while Steve Roberts, Washington State University Vancouver Veteran Corps Representative and alumnus, hands out thank you cards on Veteran’s Day made by students at WSU Vancouver in early November.

Work to thank veterans for their service began at WSU Vancouver when students Kerry Layne Jeffrey and Kelly Schrock assisted Roberts place flags around the central campus walking paths in the beginning of November. Though the flags remained standing an entire week and over 300 cards were handed out during the Veteran’s Day weekend work to increase awareness regarding veterans is still in progress. Roberts’ overarching goal is to increase veteran involvement on campus – despite the recent collapse of the Veterans Club on campus – while securing a veterans resource center on campus similar to those at competing universities like the University of Washington.

To involve WSU Vancouver students in efforts to thank veterans off campus, Nov. 6 through Nov. 7, Roberts organized a card-signing event with the help of Nikki Hinshaw, student activities advisor, and Mary Pat Dutton, campus registrar. Each card was personally handed to veterans Friday, Nov. 8, at the Vancouver 40 et 8 breakfast, a community veterans affairs organization, and the Portland Veteran’s Affairs Hospital Nov. 11.

At the card-signing event, Kim Takenishi, a student and member of the Spanish Club, said that she was “glad for the opportunity to thank veterans for their service.” Takenishi also cited her concern with the lack of resources veterans have access to when they return to the states from deployment or when they attend colleges like WSU Vancouver.

Another student who attended the card-signing event, Eli Omans, digital technology and culture junior, started with a stack of over 40 cards. As Omans sat and addressed each individual card she shared her thoughts on the need for events like this on campus, stating that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the service of veterans and that she believes veterans do not have the same support system they once had and people think they have now.

Often times a furrowed brow or a question would accompany the expression of appreciation following the veteran reception of the cards. Roberts explained that many veterans, particularly those who returned from Vietnam, had never been thanked for their service and this may be the first time for many. Some veterans who received thank you cards made by the WSU Vancouver students wanted to make certain their gratitude was conveyed back to the campus.

In regards to veterans affairs work in the university scene, competitors to WSU, such as Oregon State University and the University of Washington, have increased their veteran enrollment by committing resources to those students. Initially reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, OSU has two new initiatives, developed to support veteran students; academic support and healthcare support. The University of Washington offers a Veterans Center located on their Seattle campus and has three listed student veteran groups.

In Pullman, the student government has created an organization called the Student Veteran Committee, it can be found at studentveterans.wsu.edu. A Veterans Center will find a temporary location in the Holland Library starting Jan. 2014. Additionally, this Student Veterans Committee under student government is the only veterans organization on campus that can be found using the WSU web page. Locally, WSU Vancouver does not currently have an active veterans group despite having a reported 180 student veterans on campus, according to the WSU Vancouver web page.

Diane Binder, Veterans Affairs representative, and Roberts are the primary student veteran resources on campus. Given the veterans on campus, according to Roberts, have been irregularly active and yet to formulate a consistent, clear platform of needs, he may have found himself in a chicken before the egg quandry regarding veteran resources. If the veterans aren’t involved is it due to their lack of interest or their lack of space to generate said interest?

Since March Roberts has been working with students Shavenor Winters and Pauline Ramos, then running to fill their current positions as ASWSUV president and vice president. Collaboration with on campus entities has been a focus of Roberts’ in his pursuit for a veteran’s resource center for the campus. The Winters/Ramos platform focused on inclusiveness, diversity, accountability and partnership.

Passionate about veterans, a two-time combat veteran himself, Roberts worries that decisions for veterans to enroll at WSU Vancouver could be affected by the amount of resources available. A space that can be utilized to share resources and forge support networks is what he wants to start with.

What’s next for veteran support services at WSU and WSU Vancouver? Roberts says he will keep moving forward with his plans to push for the same type of Veterans Space offered by the University of Washington and continue forging community relationships.  What it takes, Roberts says, is for students to consider whom they are sitting next to in the classroom. Any student walking around on campus could be a veteran who isn’t receiving the type of support they need or should be offered.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Roberts says:

    This is a well written piece that highlights some very important concerns with the Veteran Community. It highlights the need for more services, a Veteran Space as well as the impact of the event itself. My issue is that the photo that is supposed to represent this piece is terrible. Of all the photos that were taken over several days of Veteran Activities how was this chosen? If the point of the pictures accompanying the pieces is to highlight and bring attention so readers will be engaged how is this engaging? The photo’s used in the paper were great but it would be nice if readers were able to see in color those photos as well as others that were taken. Also, I couldn’t help but notice some of the other articles that are located above this article, that really have no justification (in my opinion) to be there. Given that I am a Combat Veteran myself, I think it is sad that you would chose a poor photo and stick it under things such as Master Gardening (We are going into Winter) as well as Pantera and the other music piece. This makes it look as though whoever put this page together has more of an interest in Heavy Metal than supporting the men and women that have fought for our country’s freedoms, which are the same freedoms that our college systems were founded on. I hope that these issues can be adjusted in future articles relating to veterans on our campus.

    Thank you for your time.