In order to expand their scope beyond financial aid and connect veterans with more services, Bellevue College’s Veterans Office has added another member to their team, Rachel Hayes, a Vet Corps navigator. While Hayes does not work directly for the college, she does work to serve the college’s veteran population. “With the tradition [of the] higher education system, there are a lot of holes for special populations,” said Hayes. “I build the bridge between services, inside and outside of this college.”
“If this position doesn’t exist,” said Hayes, “then the veterans, here as students have to be their own advocates. They have to do the legwork, they have to find out for themselves, and it’s each one finding out the information over and over again. There’s no ‘lessons learned’ binder; there’s no standard operating procedure.” Once benefits have run out and help is needed to cover things such as rent, childcare, books or tutoring, Hayes can help find the money and resources that can make up the difference. At the present time, the only BC website available for veterans exclusively addresses financial aid. Hayes plans to create a Web page for services in addition to a Facebook page, where she will be making regular posts.
Outside resources include the Veteran’s Administration, Veteran’s Hospital, Veterans Training Support Center, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and One Less Mountain. An example of the services provided include grants from King County that will pay a veteran’s rent for one month, should they apply and express the need, as well as a grant that will pay for a veteran’s tutoring at current tutoring rates. These types of services make it more worthwhile to seek assistance.
Many of these programs will assist veterans with the registration process. Hayes emphasizes that even if an individual is not disabled or does not wish to disclose their disability, once the paperwork has been finalized, it is accounted for in the system, which means more money for the veterans who need it. “We need the numbers,” Hayes said. While filling out and compiling the appropriate paperwork can be difficult, counselors are on staff to assist veterans with the process. When sitting down with a counselor at one of the agencies, they will ask veterans a question and simply let them talk, taking notes in a manner that will be interpreted by the VA. One example of this would be if a veteran mentions that they get enough sleep, but says they only sleep for three hours, then the counselor would interpret that as insomnia.
Another program that Hayes works closely with is the Stand Down project, available through One Less Mountain. They accept new and gently used clothing for homeless veterans, offering numerous services in one location. Approximately 400 homeless veterans attend and are offered showers, medical care, legal assistance, housing options and this year, job interviews as well. The Military Voice Initiative will also have a presence to document veteran experiences. This recording is only released at the discretion of the individual and is intended to “honor [veterans’] voices, amplify their experiences, and let them know that we — as a nation — are listening,” according to their website. Should one wish to share the recording with their family members, this can help overcome barriers preventing them from sharing their story directly. “We’re holding so much stress, anger, sadness and guilt from our experiences while we’re overseas, or just in the military in general, that it becomes too much and bleeds into daily life, and our family happens to be closest, so they’re the ones who get it first,” said Hayes.
Another veteran resource is Growing Veterans, which engages veterans and the broader community in outdoor work taking on numerous projects, including wetland preservation and a weekly farmers market on Thursdays at the VA hospital. “What that does is create a sense of community,” said Hayes. “It lets your hands stay busy so you can talk to other veterans without having to look people in the eye, and it’s sometimes easier to talk about your stuff if they can’t see the tears running down your face. It also partners you with people who have never dealt with military personnel.”
Hayes’ office is located on the bottom floor of the B Building in the main office and will be available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. BC is one of 43 colleges in the state that currently have a Vet Corps representative. Students at schools without representation can still receive assistance from the program. In the event of a crisis, even if it is not suicide related, veterans are encouraged to call 1-800-273-2855.