Supporting Kean’s Student Veterans
Transitioning from soldier to student is a challenge, but it’s about to get easier at Kean University.
Kean today becomes the third university in the state to launch the Veteran Affairs VITAL program. Short for Veterans Integration To Academic Leadership, the VITAL program gives Kean’s 234 student veterans on-campus, personal support in accessing Veterans Affairs services.
Each Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Room 123 of Willis Hall, a licensed social worker from VA New Jersey Healthcare will be on hand to offer counseling services and walk Kean’s student veterans through the cumbersome VA system.
“On their own, veterans could wait 30 days for a VA appointment,” said Vito Zajda, Kean’s director of Veterans Student Services. “With this program, the social worker could get our veterans an appointment the next day. She bypasses the bureaucracy and gets them into the system for the help they need.”
The VITAL program is the latest veteran support service at Kean. The University opened a Veteran Services Lounge in 2016 where the former servicemen and servicewomen can meet, socialize and study. There is also a conference room, and Zajda meets with each veteran once a month to keep them on track.
“We take them from admissions to graduation and everything in between, including retention, advising and career planning,” said Zajda. “We have also started offering tutors in some subjects. The tutors themselves are veterans, so it is veterans working with veterans. We want to do everything we can to help the vets we have on campus succeed.”
Military Friendly, a group created by veterans to identify programs that lead to positive outcomes for veterans and their families, recently designated Kean as a silver-level Military Friendly School.
The University also plans to launch a Veterans Center next month to help veterans on campus and throughout Union County deal with financial difficulties and other challenges.
“We are planning to be gold for next year,” Zajda said. “We listen to our veterans and try to address the issues they face, whether they are academic, medical, administrative or personal, to make their transition into civilian life as easy as possible.”
U.S. Army Sergeant Kimmarah Casey, a senior criminal justice major, says support at Kean comes from all corners.
“When I was deployed to Puerto Rico in the middle of my fall semester last year for relief efforts, three of my professors allowed me to pause my studies until I returned,” said Casey. “The professors were not obligated to allow me to make up my work when I returned, but they did, which is a big help to me.”
Student Government is also raising money to train a service dog for one the University’s student veterans through Rebuilding Warriors. If the raffle raises enough money, a second dog will be trained for another veteran at Ocean County College in Toms River, where Kean Ocean is located.
“The Executive Board and Student Council voted on this service project to support our veterans,” said Damion Wilson, president of Student Organization. “It is extremely important that we recognize what they do for us and give back to them. We are really excited to be working with Rebuilding Warriors. We can’t think of a better way to tell the veterans on campus that we care.”
Photo Caption: U.S. Army Sergeant Kimmarah Casey, a senior criminal justice major, says student veterans benefit from the support they receive at Kean University.