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Bill Supports Veterans On College Campuses

Veterans Resource Centers can be found on college campuses across the nation, but funding for them is scarce.  A bill in Congress could change that.

Army veteran Gilbert Bernabe is not your traditional college student.  He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before starting work on his bachelor’s degree.  By then, he was 35 and going through a divorce.

He credits support from on campus Veterans Resource Centers at Hartnell College and Cal State Monterey Bay for keeping him on track. He graduates this semester from CSUMB.

“They offered, like, tutoring service from another veteran, which I really liked and then I was broke at the time because I was going through a divorce, so they helped me with books,” said Bernabe. “But just having those little services to help me get by really changed my experience in school.”

This month, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) and Congressman Don Bacon (R-Nebraska) introduced a bipartisan bill to create a federal grant program to help public universities establish and maintain Veterans Resource Centers. 

Congressman Panetta talked about the Veterans Resource Center Act during a news conference Monday at CSUMB.

“This is a bill which gives veterans the educational, the emotional and the social support to help them earn their college degrees,” said Panetta.

The Cal State system doesn’t provide any direct funding for the centers, leaving it up to campuses to squeeze it in their budgets. 

“There are tremendous pressures on the scarce resources that we have for all the competing demands. So having a federal source that is dedicated to supporting veteran support centers is a great way to take pressure off,” said CSUMB President Eduardo Ochoa.

CSUMB currently has 54 student veterans on campus, and its Veterans Resource Center also supports an additional 150 dependents of veterans. 

Under the bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs would issue the grants.  No dollar amount has been set.  Congressman Panetta says that will come through the process of having hearings and marking up the bill. 

“That's going to be up to the Department of Veterans Affairs. We're going to have to work with them on exactly the amount that they are considering, but that's going to be obviously based on more investigation, talking to the Veterans Resource Centers,” said Panetta.

Next, the bill will go before the House Veterans Affairs committee.   Congressman Panetta acknowledged there is limited time for 115th Congress to take up the bill.

But this way I'm providing a foundation so that my members know that this is the bill that I'm going to be putting forward again 116th and hope for the push it through for passage in 116th Congress,” said Panetta.

Krista joined KAZU in 2007. She is an award winning journalist with more than a decade of broadcast experience. Her stories have won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and honors from the Northern California Radio and Television News Directors Association. Prior to working at KAZU, Krista reported in Sacramento for Capital Public Radio and at television stations in Iowa. Like KAZU listeners, Krista appreciates the in-depth, long form stories that are unique to public radio. She's pleased to continue that tradition in the Monterey Bay Area.