Student veterans have a new home

Erin Beck

At South Dakota State’s Multicultural Center, there’s a new kid on the block. It’s time to say hello to the Veterans’ Resource Center.

Currently located in the Multicultural Center in the basement of The Union, the Vets’ Resource Center was established just this year. The center provides services and programs for veterans entering and attending South Dakota State University. According to SDSU’s website, the center has multiple goals that it’s striving to achieve.

The Vets’ Resource Center is working to coordinate an orientation program specifically engineered for veterans while assisting SDSU students that are deployed with the military. The center also provides additional support to the SDSU Armed Forces Association and works with returning National Guard units and other active duty personnel in order to assist with admission and re-admission to SDSU.

With the development of the center comes a new position: a coordinator for Veteran Affairs. Beginning June 18 of this year, Brian Mahaffy stepped in to fill the position.

Mahaffy has been on similar ground compared to most vets coming to campus. Mahaffy came to State as an undergrad straight out of the Marine Corps. The major difference is that Mahaffy didn’t have an added boost with the Vets’ Resource Center to back him up.

“There have always been great services at SDSU, but there weren’t services solely dedicated to vets,” Mahaffy said.

As the new Veterans’ Resource Coordinator, Mahaffy has many different sets of shoes to fill. Mahaffy acts as a Federal Certifying Official where he handles basic issues dealing with G.I. Bill certification. He also works to direct vets to different services available to them depending on their needs, including entities such as Disability Services.

“I help and assist them in any way I can,” he said.

Mahaffy also takes on the role of veteran retention and assists with any concerns that vets send his way. According to the Arizona Veterans’ Education Foundation, student veteran retention is estimated at 7 percent with student veteran graduation rates at an even lower 3 percent on some campuses in the nation. Mahaffy is working to combat those percentages and give vets a successful opportunity for higher  educatoin.

While he doesn’t cite recruitment as part of his job description, Mahaffy does work in contacting vets who are interested in achieving a higher education. He classified part of his role as “opening others up to services that SDSU provides for veterans.”

According to Mahaffy, when his role is boiled down to the bare essentials, he deals with helping vets transition to life at SDSU. For vets who are coming back from deployment, he aids in reconnecting them with the university. For vets coming straight out of deployment with no college experience, he helps them navigate a new environment and develops programming specific to veterans.

“It’s a big cultural shock when you come out of service and into college,” he said. “I know the challenges.”

According to Mahaffy, the Vets’ Resource Center is an invaluable asset for veterans coming to SDSU today. More information is available to vets now, and with the creation of the center vets have a resource that makes that information more accessible. The center allows vets to come together and help one another out.

A key to success for service members and vets, according to Mahaffy, is having that source of advising and sense of direction.

“It’s just having that somebody that has been through those rigors,” Mahaffy said. “Someone they can trust and has that experience and can come to that someone and talk about those issues … and make resources better on campus. That’s what I’m here for.”

One veteran who is benefitting from the Vets Resource Center is freshman Aaron Delzer. As a part of the Marine Corps, Delzer recently left in June of this year. His track record consists of two deployments as a part of the second battalion, Second Marine Regiment, Second Marine Division.

“Without the resource center, we veterans would for the most part be lost in the sauce,” Delzer said. “Not having that center would make transitioning even more difficult and would intrude on the spreading of information and knowledge regarding veterans’ benefits, outreach resources and organizations.”

Delzer is a firm believer in Mahaffy’s role as the vets’ resource coordinator. With Mahaffy available to answer questions and collaborating to find the answers to difficult situations, Delzer feels that the overall transition to college life from the armed forces has been smoother.

“I think that the vet resource coordinator is an essential position and person for making veterans’ transitioning experience easier,” Delzer said. “I believe with having a coordinator it makes getting all of our benefits in line easier and makes all of our paperwork go smoother.”

Another resource for veterans on campus includes the Armed Forces Association.

“(Mahaffy) introduced me to the Armed Forces Association on campus as soon as I met him. The AFA makes me feel like I’m still in that brotherhood that I had while I was in the Marines,” Delzer said.

Mahaffy encouraged interested veterans to check out the SDSU Armed Forces Association on Facebook.