Central Point of Contact
Many veterans who participated in the ACE Veteran Success Jam suggested that having a single point of contact on campus would help them navigate their college experience. This reduces confusion and time spent searching for relevant information. Veterans value the trust that is built through hands-on, in-person assistance from a single source knowledgeable about all of the facets of their education.
That said, while hands-on, in-person assistance is often effective, this access point can also include a clear and comprehensive website that explains an institution's entire veteran initiative and how to access the services provided on and off campus. These two pieces can provide a personalized roadmap – a GPS of sorts – for veterans to navigate smoothly through higher education.
The school's VA certifying official could be the best central point of contact you have. From a veteran's perspective, this position has one of the (if not THE) most crucial jobs within higher education. On top of processing benefits through the VA system, these individuals are relied upon to process VA education benefits, a top priority for most veterans and often a full-time role in benefits counseling.
The reality is that the certifying official, while a primary conduit for information at most schools, is often one of many roles a particular individual holds. As a result, their priorities do not always focus on the veteran population, and processing times can be lengthy for schools with large numbers of veterans. Veterans often voice frustrations and concerns over these issues.
Creating a specific position for a certifying official, rather than relying on someone in another office, could be the beginning of a central place for veterans to contact, and will likely alleviate frustrations (for veterans, school administrators, and the VA) while increasing the overall success of your program. Other activities, such as recruiting and outreach, might be additional duties to include in this position description.
Regardless, it is important that the individual in this position be highly trained and supported due to the nature of their work and responsibilities. This gives your institution one point of contact for both student veterans and the VA to ensure consistent information travels between your school, the VA, and the student. Further, it will demonstrate support and build trust with your student veterans.
While many schools tend to hire veterans to hold the position of certifying official or central point of contact for veterans, others have experienced success employing military family members in the job. And, of course, at some colleges and universities, non-veterans hold the position. This approach can sometimes lead to concern from veteran students, but over time, as long as the person has the right knowledge and spirit, the point of contact will foster positive and trusting relationships with the student veterans they serve.
It is important to note that communicating with student veterans will require a multi-pronged approach. While 21st century technology is effective and most student veterans are tech-savvy, word of mouth continues to be the way most will successfully receive and process information. While on active duty, it is not typical for a service member to check email or text messages on a computer or PDA to manage their schedule. They are told where to be and when – and they are expected to remember that information. It may take student veterans some time to adjust to a culture where so much information is disseminated without the spoken word.