With Veterans Day just around the corner, our nation uses the day to reflect on those who have served and to appreciate the sacrifices they have made in order to keep every American citizen safe from foreign enemies. Although, here at UMass Lowell, veterans and those who are still serving our nation in a military capacity in one way or another can find support and camaraderie at the University’s Office of Veterans Services on almost any day of the year. The services offered to veterans and military connected students can range from assistance with applying for benefits to just having a fellow former or current service member to sit down and trade stories with. A haven for past and present service members that not all universities can say they have.
As a veteran myself, I arrived at UMass Lowell three years ago with little knowledge of campus life and how my military status could assist me.
During the summer prior to the fall semester of 2016, I took a drive to the Veterans Services office to find any information I could on the benefits I may qualify for. When I walked through the door, I was immediately greeted by one of their veteran staff. Although I had only received a total of nine months of training for my role in the Army Reserves, they still treated me as though I had served a full-length contract. Like any department here, I was asked how they could be of service and if there were any particular questions they could assist me with.
Janine Wert, the director of the office, was a former Veterans Association (VA) social worker who has taken care of over 35,000 combat veterans in her career, shed more light on her office and how beneficial it is to all current and former service members.
“We’re a comprehensive service for student veterans and military connected students,” Wert said, who has been tirelessly working as director for years. Wert and her office aims to help veterans in almost any way possible, so that they can be successful both before and after they graduate. “Our ultimate goal is for all our student veterans and military connected people to find career employment.”
One service that the office does not offer, however, is academic tutoring.
“The idea is that our students are financially stable, that they have good mental health and medical care,” Wert said, who agreed that some veterans begin their academic career at a disadvantage to most other non-veteran students. Wert believes that although the veterans education is highly important, many other important aspects of their lives such as food and shelter must be taken care of first.
“[If] you’re not eating food and you’re on the verge of homelessness and can’t pay your bills, physics doesn’t matter,” Wert said.
Wert wants veterans to be more aware of the benefits they are qualified for.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t aware of all their benefits and so they struggle financially,” she said. Wert also wants them to know that if veterans come to the office for help, they will be guided in the right direction and not be forced into making any decisions they may be uncomfortable with.
“Our approach to serving veterans is a more customer service approach than it is condescending,” she said.
Although there may be some veterans on campus who have not gone to the office for help, many are benefiting from their support every week.
“This office has been nothing but outstanding in helping me integrate into the civilian world after serving several years in the U.S. Army,” said Daniel Dramiga, a student veteran. “It has made me feel at home and confident that I am making the right decisions with my life after service.”