The Student Veteran’s Club, started as a means to help military veterans make a transition to campus life as easy as possible, is associated with the Student Veteran Resource Center which, of course, also helps veterans who are students facing issues about registration, classes, and housing situations.

The club also helps vets to meet others who share their military experiences. Jessica Tobin, 26, a Marine Corps veteran originally from Pittsburgh, who is the club’s president, said, “I am not from New York, so the club is definitely like a support group because people I knew before the Marines don’t understand my last five years” said the Upper East Side resident.

Tobin enlisted in the Marine Corps after two years at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, where she studied journalism. She joined the Corps to pursue journalism and to be a combat camera Marine. After her tour of duty, she enrolled in Hunter in fall, 2009, majoring in Women and Gender Studies because she wanted to start another career. She also minors in psychology.

“I want to be a marriage and family counselor,” said Tobin. “After five years of doing it [journalism], I just wanted to move on to the next stage of my life.” Tobin came to Hunter on the Post 9-11 G.I. bill that allows a veteran to resume a college education school without bearing the burden of housing and food expenses.

Arthur Ford and Aliya Frazier, known as Certifying Officials of the Student Veteran’s Club, help student veterans like Tobin get certified. This means helping student vets who want to use their benefits for a current semester. “They let us know once they register, and then we go ahead and send in the appropriate paperwork to Veteran Affairs so that their payments came be made,” Frazier said in the Office of Student Services located at 417 Hunter West.

Frazier and Ford said that many students choose Chapter 33, also known as the The Post-9/11 GI-Bill because, in additional to tuition and fee payments, they get housing allowances but only, however, if they are 100 percent eligible. Ford said that eligibility was based upon how much time they served in active duty after September 11, 2001. They have to serve at least 36 months after that date.

Amal Agalawatta, 35, a political science major, had some problems with the G.I. bill when he came back to Hunter after being in the army for eight years. He said that his G.I. bill, when he enrolled in August, 2009, wouldn’t cover his expenses until December 2009. “My wife and I had to live in a friend’s house in New Jersey for 3 months. We had two big dogs as well, so it was crowded,” the Queens resident said.

Ford said that that happens. “For their tuition, because the VA [Veteran Affairs Administration] doesn’t always pay promptly, in fact ,they seldom do, we will put a deferral on their tuition,” he said. “If we know that the money is coming from the VA,” Hunter won’t cancel their classes “because the VA didn’t pay on time.”

Agalawatta attended Hunter first before joining the army in his senior year when he was four classes shy of graduating. After being deployed a number of times, with his last assignment in Iraq for 15 months, the Veteran’s Club helped him. Recalling what it was like to be at Hunter when he first enrolled, Agalawatta said the campus has changed since he left in 2001. “It was a whole different ball game when I was first here because it was still Open Admissions,” Agalawatta said sitting at a DELL computer in the Student Veteran Resource Center. “There is a higher caliber of students now, and I feel they are more dedicated to being students.”

The quality and benefits of Open Admission is still the subject of academic debates even though colleges and universities now employ other strategies and policies to support ethnic diversity enrollment.

Overall, Agalawatta said that it has been a hard adjustment from his last deployment and the veteran resource center provides a place for veterans to be themselves and share similar stories with other students. “We aren’t crazy deranged people like some people think we are. We are normal people,” he said.

This club has many other aspects, such as the resource center, but it also works with a program called Project for Return and Opportunity In Veterans Education (PROVE) which was founded in 2007. According to its website, P.R.O.V.E./ “serves as a means to support student veterans as they transition from military service to student life. Our program focuses on the special skills veterans bring to their college environment, as well as their specific concerns.” P.R.O.V.E. is not limited to just Hunter but also serves other schools, such as John Jay College for Criminal Justice and Borough of Manhattan Community College.

Leora Shudofsky is a full-time field instructor and faculty advisor for the Veteran’s Club. She started in summer 2008 helping the social work interns take what they learned from graduate school and apply it by working in the Student Veteran Resource Center. She spends one day a week with sets of interns to help them through this educational process. She said that the center and club spaces are important for veterans coming back to school.

“Sometimes veterans come back and they feel that people don’t really understand them or they just cant identify. They may be a little bit older than the traditional students, so it is a good place for them, and there are lots of other people who have similar experiences,” Shudofsky said in an interview outside the Student Veteran Resource Center.

She said P.R.O.V.E. was becoming well known because of the expansions to four other campuses, but also that more funding could help let student veterans know that there is a place for help. She said there has been an increase at Hunter from 80 to about 200 students in the course of two years. “So I think we are getting more visibility but probably, there is still more that we can do and more that the club can do in terms of getting student veterans. I don’t think people know that there is a Veteran’s Club,” she said.

Shudofsky said she loved working with students and said that Wednesday was her favorite day because she gets to hang out with all the veterans. “They are really an extraordinary bunch of people men and women,” she said. “They are people who are doing things that I chose not to do and that I didn’t do and they’re doing them so we could all go along in our lives. I just find them very inspiring to be around.”

Interesting Reading:
Combat veterans face more lifelong socio-economic challenges.
Student Veteran FAQ


Colleen Siuzdak can be reached at csiuzdak@hunter.cuny.edu