North Texas Daily

‘One-stop shop’ at Student Veterans Services ends runaround

‘One-stop shop’ at Student Veterans Services ends runaround

October 08
01:23 2015

Eline de Brujin | Staff Writer

@debruijneline

Student Veteran Services has not always been under one roof in Sage Hall. Before University Union construction began, student veterans were subject to the same communication inefficiencies, known as the UNT runaround by the greater student body.

As the University Union prepares for its grand opening in November, staff at Veteran Services reflect on how the old Union, Stovall Hall, was closed and how the closure actually helped centralize the Veteran Affairs office. The office used to be housed in multiple buildings about campus.

The Student Veteran Services office is a place for UNT’s veteran population of almost 2,900 to gather and handle administrative paperwork. The center has a peer mentor program, student accounting office, computer lab, study room and registrar’s office, allowing student veterans to have their essentials taken care of all in one place.

James Davenport became director of Student Veteran Services in July 2014. He is a 21-year veteran of the Army and a UNT alumnus.

“Every student [should] be able to come to one place and take care of their supportive needs,” Davenport said.

Kevin Clarke, a new student and Navy veteran, said the staff at the center helped him with paperwork when the registrar’s office in the Eagle Student Service Center could not.

“I definitely plan on using their services in the future,” he said of Veteran Services.

About 60 percent of student veterans come through the center to drop off paperwork and the other 40 percent do so online, Davenport said.

“A lot of times they don’t get further than that front desk,” Davenport said. “I wish 100 percent of the veterans would come through here, [but] I know that’s probably an unreachable goal. If we can catch them, we show them what the rest of the office is, because it is the student services and we want them to use that.”

In November 2013 at UNT Libraries’ Speak Out series, one veteran said he felt left out at new student orientation. Since he took his position, Davenport has made it essential to greet new students at orientation and require veterans to attend an hour-long veterans’ session afterward.

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A bulletin board in the new Veterans Center holds cards celebrating Veterans Day. Haley Yates | Staff Photographer

“I have an open-door policy, and what that means is if I’m sitting in this office, I’ll stop what I’m doing to talk to someone,” Davenport said. “Because of the uniqueness of my population and some of the things the veterans have been through, I don’t want a chance where I didn’t make time for someone and something happens later on that I might regret.”

Another issue that surfaced at the series was a need for more student veteran funding. Davenport said he’s aware of the call for more services, but added he will only request more funding from the university when about 80 to 90 percent of the veterans on campus utilize the services.

“We are a unique group, but there [are] a lot of other unique groups here too,” Davenport said. “I think we are equal…so I don’t think that’s fair to the university or all of the other students, because there [are] a lot of students, not just veterans, who have emotional issues during college.”

Senior Andrew Austin served in the Air Force for seven years. Austin visits the computer lab often and networks for jobs. Operating hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, so sometimes veterans can’t come by the center.

“A lot of veterans are commuters, have jobs or are generally older,” Austin said. “But I’m in here a lot and there [are] quirks about us that people here understand.”

Military Advanced Education ranked UNT a “top school” distinction in spring 2015. They look at population, graduation rates, resources and academic programs for student veterans, Davenport said.

Student Veteran Association is another service for vets on campus. Veterans can get guidance from other veterans through the peer mentor program. Mason McKenzie, who served in the Army for four years, mentors students on campus.

“[SVA] is not as well known, but students enjoy the feeling of being a part of that,” McKenzie said. “For mentoring, I share my experiences with students and how I handled things.”

Veterans can receive educational benefits through the Hazelwood Act, Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, and others. For these benefits to pay for school, veterans must complete courses specified in their degree plan. The registrar’s office within the center helps veterans navigate through the system and make sure they take correct classes.

“Sometimes student veterans get burnt out on paperwork,” McKenzie said. “But they have to be proactive to get the ball rolling. We’re here to help.”

Some veterans may be carrying around wounds from war, but they all served for different reasons, Davenport said.

“Remember: we’re people just like you,” Davenport said. “We want to be treated with dignity and respect, and I would say I would respect a veteran student like any other student and any other human being.”

Featured Image: Director of Veterans Students Services James Davenport poses in his office on Mon. Oct. 5. Haley Yates | Staff Photographer

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