Vets resource center legislation fails

Corey Wackel

Corey WackelNews Editor

Students’ Association and BOR spoke out against a bill requiring centers on S.D. campuses.

A bill that would have put pressure on the Board of Regents and SDSU to create a veterans resource center for the SDSU campus failed in the South Dakota Senate.

House Bill 1196 originally stated that “each public institution of higher learning under the control of the BOR shall provide a veterans resource center on campus to serve the needs of student veterans.” After working its way through the Senate Education Committee, the word “shall” was changed to “may,” giving the BOR the legal permission to establish such a center should they chose to do so. On Feb. 24, the bill passed the Senate Education Committee by a vote of 6-0, but failed in the senate March 1.

The bill found some supporters in addition to some detractors. A resolution to support the bill failed in a Students’ Association meeting, and the BOR spoke out against the bill. Opposition came from the issues of funds and the space needed to build the resource center, specifically in the original wording of the bill that would have required campuses to provide for a center without funds.

“The bill would benefit student veterans; there is no doubt about that,” Paul Turman, the BOR’s Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, said. “The problem is that administration would be required to shelve some of their other building expansions projects in looking to create this new center.”

As the proposal was written, SDSU would have been responsible for finding the space and the equipment needed to get the veteran’s resource center up and running. The State Department of Veterans Affairs would then have been given the responsibility of hiring, training, and paying the staff required to get the center running.

The BOR feared that the center’s costs would be projected onto students.

“There is no funding at this point,” Turman said early Tuesday afternoon. “If there were a source of funds, [the BOR] wouldn’t hesitate to build the center, but with the financial times we are in now…it becomes difficult. [SDSU] would almost be required to use student fees to make sure that they are in compliance with what the law says.”

Members of SDSU’s Veterans Club are trying to make the center a reality.

SDSU Veterans Club President Derek Douglas was present at both the House and the Senate Education committees meetings and talked about his passion for the project.

“The first year of college is hard for veterans,” Douglas said. “If there were a veteran’s resource center on campus, it would ease that transition from military to college.”

Douglas, who has served three deployments in Iraq, said that SDSU has around 500 student veterans, many of whom find it hard to adjust.

“The dorms provide a social structure for incoming college students,” Douglas said, “but most of the veterans are too old to live in the dorms.”

That challenge, combined with the fact that veterans currently have no one individual to turn to with questions, is a daunting thing for many. Before the bill failed, Douglas said that he believed that the formation of a veteran’s resource center would help alleviate some of these problems.

“If the bill is passed, there would be two main accomplishments,” Douglas said Tuesday before the bill failed. “It would provide a centralized point of contact for services on campus…and it would also build that sense of community for the student veteran’s population.”

Andy Ellis, adviser to the SDSU Veterans Club for the past two years, expanded on this, saying that student veterans can’t ease into the change as well as might be able to.

“Incoming student veterans can’t relate to freshman,” Ellis said. “We’re talking two ends of a spectrum. The military is such a cohesive, structural environment that many of these student veterans are looking for almost militaristic directions so that they can feel more comfortable.”

Ellis said that the group has been talking to veterans in order to find out what they want and he believes that a veteran’s resource center would be a place where daily help would be available.

“We really just want veterans to be able to come back and be integrated back into society,” Ellis said. “Good leaders lead from the front, and right now SDSU is really the flagship of the educational system in South Dakota, but we don’t appear to be.”

Both Douglas and Ellis, however, believe that existing space within The Union could eventually provide for the most ideal setting.

“The Union has really been branded as the living room of the SDSU campus,” Douglas said. “The fact that all of the services are in that one centralized area would make it a great location.”

“The Union really is the central area,” Ellis agreed. “If we were to eventually see a veteran’s resource center in that location, it would be more up-front and accessible for student veterans.”

The Veterans Club was also looking to propose an orientation for student veterans, which would have been conducted through the resource center.

“We would like to push for a one-stop shop for veterans,” Ellis said. “A veteran’s resource center would steer [veterans] in the orientation process and would also provide a social network.”

On the issue of the cost for a veterans resource center in the future, Ellis said that the cost of the center would be minimal for the university.

“All it is going to cost the university is a piece of real estate,” Ellis said. “Veterans would be happy to come on as staff. If the university were to give us the real estate, we would go from there.”

If a veterans resource center were to come to SDSU, it wouldn’t be the first within the South Dakota higher education system.

In fall 2009, a veteran’s resource center was added the union at The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The center was made possible through a private donation and is capable of holding up to 20 students.

If the bill had passed, the university would not have been required to place a veteran’s resource center on campus, but Douglas said that SA could have put pressure administration to get a center established.

After the bill failed Tuesday night, Douglas could not be reached. The SDSU Veteran’s Club has set their next meeting for 7:30 p.m. March 23 at the VFW

#1.2042917:1361807169.png:DSC_0493.png:From left to right, Taylor Zoelle, Garrett Rebstock, and Jessie Krantz present the flags before a Jacks home basketball game. :Collegian Photo by Andrew Turner#1.2042916:736875553.png:DSC_0491.png:From left to right, Taylor Zoelle, Garrett Rebstock, and Jessie Krantz present the flags before a Jacks home basketball game. :Collegian Photo by Andrew Turner