Military veterans coming to college face unique problems. If they are returning from serving overseas, those issues are compounded.
That’s why Middlesex County College has started the Center for Veterans Services, a one-stop center that will provide aid, as well as act as a place for returning veterans to feel at home. The center was opened in December with a brief ceremony attended by faculty, administrators, staff and College Board members. The audience included Doug Breen, Middlesex County veterans coordinator; Bob Rosania, president of the College’s Veterans and Service Members Association; State Senator Linda Greenstein, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula.
“Veterans face numerous problems when they re-integrate into civilian life,” said Dave Brimmer, the Center’s director. “There’s a lot of red tape between them and the benefits they’ve earned: educational, financial and medical. In addition, they may be working through hidden readjustment issues – with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the like. Others may have less formidable issues to deal with, but are still transitioning from one phase of their life to another.”
The center is funded by a grant from the Willard T.C. Johnson Foundation. It is for three years at $135,000 per year – a total of $405,000.
College President Joann La Perla-Morales said the College is very pleased to be able to extend services to veterans.
“We have always welcomed our veterans and the center will allow us to expand our services to provide more comprehensive programs for them,” she said. “We are very grateful to the Willard T.C. Johnson Foundation for making this happen.”
George J. Lisicki, a member of the College’s Board of Trustees and former commander-in-chief of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars, spoke during the ceremony. He said the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are different than those of the Vietnam era, when he served. Then, most were drafted right out of high school; the newer veterans were all volunteers, and many have homes and families.
“We as a nation need to take care of our veterans,” he said. “I want to thank each and every one of them for serving their country.”
Brimmer said the focus of the center is on assisting with the transition from the military to the campus, and making sure student veterans use the educational benefits to which they are entitled, both at Middlesex and at a four-year school if they transfer.
He added that the center would also serve as a liaison between veterans and College departments, and he hopes it will be a place for veterans to relax between classes; this will also allow them to socialize with each other.
“We want to be a one-stop shop for veterans on campus,” he said. “The more contact we have with them, the more we can meet their needs.”
At present, there are 225 veterans enrolled as students at Middlesex.
Brimmer was a sergeant with eight years of Army service and three combat tours in Iraq. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from The College of New Jersey. His assistant, Paul Lazaro, is a corporal in the New Jersey Army National Guard and has two tours in Iraq. He holds two Associate Degrees from Middlesex County College and is currently in the National Security Studies Program at New Jersey City University, which holds classes at Middlesex.