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Veterans Helping Veterans

Student Veteran Group Offers Support and Guidance

April 29, 2008

By Valerie Orleans

From July of 2004 to May 2005, Joseph Chang was a typical college student, attending classes as a human services major at Cal State Fullerton. Then he was deployed to Iraq.

When he returned, Chang wanted to connect with other veterans to exchange information on military benefits, about adjustments to returning home and to compare stories. However, Cal State Fullerton didn't have a student veterans group. So Chang started one last September.

"When you're in the military, they serve as your family. It's a very close connection," he said. "When vets return, they're still looking for that sort of connection. A peer group. And it's helpful in a university environment to have someone to compare notes with about the GI bill, transferable units and career choices, that sort of thing."

Five vets showed up at the first meeting of Cal State Fullerton's Student Veterans Association meeting. Today, there are more than 40 members, with about 15 considered active members.

"I received an internship through the Women's Center and they encouraged me to start the group," he said. "So I set out to find fellow vets.

"With the guys, I'd just approach someone with really short hair," he laughed. "With women, it was a little harder to figure out if they were vets."

The group meets once a week and members discuss problems amongst themselves, offering support and recommendations. Most members of the group are often older than their classmates — in their mid-20s to mid-30s.

"We focus on helping one another academically, providing counsel to each other and offering career advice," Chang said. "In the military, you have a sort of ‘do or die' mindset — seeking help can often be seen as a weakness. But here, we can talk to one another.

"It's also helpful because most of us have been deployed and we speak the same military language. We have our own military shorthand for weapons, vehicles and that sort of thing. We don't have to decode it for one another. We understand each other because often, we've been in similar situations."

The culmination of the Student Veterans Association's first year will be "Veterans Appreciation Night" 6-9 p.m. Sunday, May 4, at the university's Golleher Alumni House. The program will consist of dinner, music, recognition of student veterans of CSUF and an acknowledgement of students who will be graduating in May and/or deploying to the Middle East in the summer and fall 2008.

"This event is a way for us to honor our military personnel and recognize them for their achievements, not only as students but as soldiers," said Chang. "It's a way for us to say thank you to them for their service."

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