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New ASU center, Arizona law improve veterans’ transition

VET CENTER: ASU is planning on opening a new veterans center next fall in the Memorial Union.  The Veteran Center will be opened in memoriam of ASU alumnus and fallen marine Pat Tillman, who was honored by thousands at the annual Pat's Run on Saturday. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)
VET CENTER: ASU is planning on opening a new veterans center next fall in the Memorial Union. The Veteran Center will be opened in memoriam of ASU alumnus and fallen marine Pat Tillman, who was honored by thousands at the annual Pat's Run on Saturday. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

ASU and the state of Arizona continued their efforts to become more veteran friendly with two big announcements last week.

At Pat’s Run on Saturday, the University announced its plan for a new veterans’ center opening on the Tempe campus next fall, named in honor of ASU alumnus Pat Tillman, who died while serving in Afghanistan.

This announcement came four days after Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2410 into law, granting honorably discharged veterans in-state tuition at any state university starting in the fall 2011 semester.

Arizona Legislative Director for Student Veterans of America Rob Rolinski said the recent explosion of veteran-related initiatives is a result of several years of work coming together all at once.

“With the wars in [Afghanistan and Iraq], we’re seeing a significant population of veterans that now have been out of the military for four to six years that are just starting to come to forefront,” Rolinski said. “It’s just all coming together at the same time. These bills and laws lately have been a very obvious way to support our veterans.”

The new Pat Tillman Veterans’ Center will consolidate ASU’s current veterans services and house the new VetSuccess on-campus staff.

VetSuccess is a program within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that helps veterans make the transition from military to civilian life by offering services at specified locations.

Last month, ASU was designated as one of eight universities nationwide to be a VetSuccess on-campus site.

“Under this program, a full-time, experienced vocational rehabilitation counselor and a part-time [ASU] vet center outreach coordinator will be assigned to our campus to provide VA benefits outreach, support and assistance to ensure their health, educational and benefit needs are meet,” said Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kent Hopkins in an email.

Other than the VetSuccess support, the rest of the center will be a consolidation of existing services.

“The center will integrate the services that are currently in several locations,” Hopkins said. “The idea is to provide a central place, on the Tempe campus for a number of academic and student support services to the growing enrollment of veterans and their dependents.”

The center will be located on the ground floor of the Memorial Union in the space previously occupied by Arizona State Credit Union and will offer support to more than 1,800 veterans and dependents currently enrolled at ASU.

“The center will honor Pat’s legacy by creating a space where veterans can come to receive support during their educational experience at the University,” ASU President Michael Crow said in a statement. “The Pat Tillman Veterans Center also will provide a gathering place for our educational community to better understand who Pat was and the influence he had on ASU.”

The center will be decorated with memorabilia, testimonials and stories of Tillman in order to help the student body, veterans and other visitors understand his lasting impact on ASU, Hopkins said.

“Pat Tillman embodied a spirit of excellence, service, courage and commitment — an outstanding example to anyone, whether in the service or not,” he said.

One of the primary goals of the Tillman Center will be to offer services that help smooth the transition from military to civilian life for veterans wishing to return to school.

Rolinski, who is also a veteran currently enrolled at UA, said the transition from military life to civilian and college life can be difficult, especially financially.

The current GI Bill, which provides post-9/11 veterans with funds for higher education, only covers tuition up to the amount of the highest in-state tuition level of each veteran’s state of residence.

Prior to the new Arizona law, veterans had to live in Arizona for a full year before applying for residency classification in Arizona, meaning their first year at ASU or any other state university would be under non-resident tuition.

This posed a problem for veterans who were ready to return to school immediately but couldn’t afford the difference between what the GI Bill covered and the current out-of-state tuition rates, Rolinski said.

“You may have to take time off, but you may be ready to go back. Now you have to take an unwanted pause in life,” he said, explaining some veterans’ situations. “Now, if you’re ready to go to school, you can say I’m going to come to Arizona, and get started right away, limiting the number of transitions vets have to make.”

One stipulation of the new law, however, is that the veterans must show some form of intent to remain in the state of Arizona, such as obtaining a driver’s license, owning a home or opening a bank account with an Arizona bank.

“All these things are designed to help get that person to stay in Arizona,” Rolinski said. “We want to bring vets here to get their college education then stay in Arizona and apply those new skills they’ve learned here and improve Arizona as a whole.”

ASU Veterans’ Services Program Manger Christian Rauschenbach said Arizona has improved greatly in veterans’ services and support in recent years.

“As a 20-year veteran, I’m very pleased by the emphasis I see here at ASU and throughout the state on veterans’ issues and how we can improve our level of support,” Rauschenbach said. “I think there is great public support right now as well, as evidenced by the tremendous showing at Pat’s Run on Saturday.”

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