July 16, 2018 | ° F

Veterans center opens doors on Lafayette Street

Photo by Ramon Dompor |

Veterans Dennis Moriarty, left, and Herman Terpstra attend yesterday's opening ceremony of the Office of Veteran Services that will help student veterans transition to college.

The house on 14 Lafayette St. in New Brunswick was in shambles just months ago.

The remodeled home now serves as not only a place for veterans to receive assistance, but a representation of the University's commitment to them.

In honor of Veterans Day, members of the University community snipped the ribbon of  the new Office of Veteran Services yesterday, during its opening ceremony.

"The success of our efforts is evidence of our 42 percent increase in the number of student veterans attending Rutgers since 2008 and our national rankings as a military friendly school in the Military Times and the GI Joe magazine," said Gregory S. Blimling, vice president of Student Affairs.

World War II veteran Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, spoke at yesterday's ceremony to express his gratitude to the veterans and current soldiers defending the country.

"The best way to confirm our belief, our love, our respect for those soldiers, those who are in uniform, is the way we treat veterans," Lautenberg said. "That shows what commitment of the country [is]."

Col. Stephen Abel, director for Veterans Services, said the new center will serve two purposes — to make the University a better place for veterans to study and create an office for veterans.

"The transition from the military to college can be very difficult," Blimling said. "Our Veterans Services office is here to make that transition as easy as possible. It offers resources and support to help ensure that every student veteran is successful at Rutgers."

Since University President Richard L. McCormick's plan to improve the University's Veteran Services, the University established a veterans services office and advisory board on all three campuses, he said.

The University has also started an advisory council, mentorship programs, orientation programs, student organizations, an information website and a recruitment team, among other activities.

The idea for creating the new office began last year, and the decision to convert the house on Lafayette Street was made in April, Abel said. The actual conversion began during the last week of August and took two months to complete.

Before the University purchased the house, it was rented out to students, he said.

Collectively, on all three University campuses, 623 veterans receive educational benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he said. There are 35 to 40 veterans on campus who do not use VA educational benefits, because they do not need or are saving it for graduate school.

Abel said veterans can learn and take advantage of a liberal arts education at the University, especially since many of the veterans spent a lot of their time in confined environments.

"In the military you lose some of your personal freedom being a solder, sailor, airmen or marines," Abel said. "So there is learning clearly here in addition to academics."

Likewise, veterans can also bring a wealth of experiences to campus, he said. Most of the University veterans today have been exposed to other cultures in the world and can share that with students.

"A lot of [University] students haven't had that experience in living in diverse cultures," Abel said.  

Veteran students can also share a unique sense of patriotism with their classmates, he said.

"These are men and women who said I appreciate the free country I live in," Abel said. "[They said] I am willing to give some portion of my life to the service of that country to make sure it remains free and independent."

Reena Diamante

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