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New center to benefit veterans

Facility will help the transition from military service to civilian life for student veterans.

April 13, 2013|By Brittany Woolsey
  • Guest speaker Jonna Doolittle Hoppes shares stories of her grandfather, Lt. Gen. James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle, during a ribbon cutting for the Veterans Resource Center at Orange Coast College on Saturday. Jimmy Doolittle is regarded as an aviation pioneer and a World War II hero.
Guest speaker Jonna Doolittle Hoppes shares stories… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

The student center at Orange Coast College began benefiting another group Saturday — veterans.

About 80 attendees, including veterans and OCC students and staff, welcomed a new Veterans Resource Center at the 37th annual Santa Ana Army Air Base Reunion on Saturday.

The resource center will be beneficial to OCC's veteran students, said Joey Dillard, Master at Arms of the Student Veterans Group at OCC.

"We're going to give [these veterans] information, and, as little as they may think, this information will transition them into civilian life without even having to go to the health center to get help for it," Dillard said. "If they have PTSD or anxiety, it actually helps them being around each other to learn how to talk to other students and people."

The center, which includes an office and lounge area, is meant to help veteran students with their studies while transitioning into civilian life.

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"The focus is getting them a place to go when they aren't in class and also give them a sense of camaraderie," said Tony Swanson, Treasurer of the Student Veterans Group at OCC.

Dillard said that, for the past two years, veterans have tried to create a place like the Veterans Resource Center, but this is the first time anyone has ever been successful at it.

"We're happy that we have a place to call home now," added Anthony Suihkonen, President of the Student Veterans Group at OCC. "It's definitely something we've been striving for."

Learning how to transition is necessary for a veteran, said Jack Hammett, Chairman of The Freedom Committee of Orange County.

"The [veterans] have seen a lot of things. Eighteen and 19-year-old boys are being taught to kill," he said. "When they come back, they can't communicate. They have seen things that no one has ever seen. They have to transition in order to get back into civilian life."

The center, located in the student center at OCC, also offers psychological support, such as peer-to-peer counseling and help from professional counselors.

Maria Traver, counselor and Puente Coordinator at OCC, said there are specialized veteran counselors available at the Veterans Resource Center.

"[The counselors] are informed, with the documentation and requirements necessary, to see our veterans when they cannot get appointments with other counselors," Traver said. "We make sure the veterans are following their academic plan, and if they have any questions about resources on campus, we will give them the referrals."

Tommy Chau, 23, who recently began serving in the Army Reserves and studies biology at OCC, said that the center will be beneficial for him as he can learn from veterans with more experience.

"There are many people here who can tell me what to look forward to and what troubles I may face," Chau said. "Once you speak to some of the veterans, they just give you so much, and whatever they can offer helps."

Dennis Harkins, president of OCC, said the Veterans Resource Center is a noteworthy addition to the school.

"I had family and friends serve, so I know the challenges these [veteran students] have faced," Harkins said. "I think it takes people of such character to come here, after serving, and we want to help them get on with the rest of their lives. This is a very specific environment where they are welcome and supported."

dailypilot@latimes.com

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