Calling Virginia’s 23 community colleges the “crown jewel” of the Commonwealth, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John C. Harvey on Tuesday asked veterans at Virginia Highlands Community College to help him promote the educational benefits and training programs offered on the VHCC campus.
“This is where so many of you come to find a pathway to employability, “’ he said. “As I’ve visited community colleges across Virginia, I’ve discovered they have a common mission to help you get to work in some productive way. You’re getting real value here in exchange for your benefits. ”
A retired four-star admiral, Harvey was appointed to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s cabinet in January 2014. Since that time, he has visited 15 community colleges across Virginia to learn what obstacles veterans face as they make the transition from military to civilian life. He plans to meet with veterans at Mountain Empire Community College on Wednesday.
Harvey said he became an advocate for community colleges after learning that for-profit educational institutions have launched aggressive marketing campaigns in an attempt to recruit those eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Unfortunately, he said, the average success rate at these institutions is about 10 percent.
“We need to do more to let veterans know about the opportunities available at community colleges,” he said. “I need you to help me spread the word.”
Student Tony Mitchell, who served in the U.S. Army and the Tennessee National Guard, suggested a training program to help faculty and staff better understand issues unique to veterans. Many on campus are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries as a result of their time in combat, Mitchell said.
Harvey agreed that colleges could benefit from these programs, adding that he is working hard across Virginia to change the perception many have of veterans. Stress is a normal part of war, he said, but many veterans are still able to lead productive lives and become valuable members of the workforce.
In fact, Harvey delivered good news to Kelly Richardson, co-owner of Richardson Ambulance Service in Marion. He said Richardson and other small business owners in Virginia will soon receive a $1,000 tax credit for each veteran employed and retained on a full-time basis for at least a year. Richardson attended Tuesday’s meeting with her employee, Ryan Clark, a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne who graduated last week with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Emergency Medical Technology.
To help veterans feel more comfortable on campus, Harvey pledged state funding next year for a veterans’ center on each community college campus. Each center will be unique, he said, to meet the needs of the state’s diverse mix of students.
“We’ll provide the money, but you will decide what you need,” he said.
And, he added, he is seeing what can be done to ensure those who have earned educational benefits are not penalized when they enroll in online classes, courses offered on a compressed timetable, or in non-credit workforce training programs. The Veterans Administration needs to adjust its rules, he said, to meet the needs of students in today’s learning environments.