SUNY New Paltz Serves Those Who Served

Photo by Holly Lipka.

SUNY New Paltz was ranked no. 18 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of “Best Colleges for Veterans” among universities located in the northern region. According to an article published in The Daily Freeman, this is a first time recognition of this distinction for the college.

The school’s Office of Veteran & Military Services was established in May 2014, starting off with 80 veterans, service members and dependents — children and spouses of veterans. Since then, the office has expanded its programs and now serves 189 veterans, service members and dependent, according to Jason F. Gilliland, Coordinator of Veterans Services and a former veteran himself.

The office offers a variety of services, including mentoring, admissions assistance, extended hours, special equipment and events.

“Number 18 in the nation? Wow. I didn’t even know they had a program like that for veterans. I wish that was a thing back then,” said local veteran Alan Semenovich, 61, who served the U.S. military in the ‘70s — post-Vietnam.

This semester the office launched their Veteran, Military and Dependents Mentoring, or VMDM, program, a peer-to-peer mentoring and student-to-faculty mentoring program for incoming veteran students. Thirteen faculty mentors, 11 professional staff members, 12 student mentors and 19 prodigies, or incoming students, were a part of it. Gilliland compared the program to a big brother and sister program. They had a fantastic turnout and received positive feedback from both the incoming students and their mentors, he said.

“When you’re a child, a teenager, a student or a soldier, you’re told what to do and you become used to that lifestyle,” said Gilliland. “It is difficult for veterans to transition from being told what to do to suddenly having all the control in their hands in this college setting,”

The office provides assistance with the admission process to get into SUNY New Paltz, which is a problem for many veterans due to deployment or serving overseas. The office acts as a liaison, or a bridge according to Gilliland. Gilliland pointed out that veteran students have different needs than average college students since most are adults with families, a mortgage and a job, or are combat veterans who suffer from injuries or conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In order to efficiently serve the bulk population of veteran students, the office normally opens at 8:30 a.m. yet stays open till 8 p.m. unlike most other administration offices, which close at 5 p.m. The office also provides special laptops with access to military domains for veteran students to use and holds events such as the annual Veteran’s Day dinner on Nov. 11, a ceremony on Veteran’s Day and the Veterans Theater Project at Parker Theatre.

“It’s like Google, you come here and you’re pointed in the right direction,” said third-year Timothy Toomey, 24, a veteran student who served the New York Army National Guard for six years.

Toomey previously attended Dutchess Community College as well as Ulster County Community College’s Police Academy before transferring to SUNY New Paltz in Spring 2015. Toomey, who now works at the office under work-study, pointed out that the office at SUNY New Paltz had “extremely knowledgeable” representatives compared to other schools. These representatives actually convinced Toomey that SUNY New Paltz was the right choice for him, recalling a smooth transfer and Gilliland’s ability to “streamline” Toomey’s application process.

“This office is a resource and I recommend any and every veteran student at SUNY New Paltz or looking at SUNY New Paltz to use it,” said Toomey, highlighting that about 22 veterans commit suicide every day according to a 2013 study by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Toomey said thankfully no veteran student at SUNY New Paltz has followed suit.

“To serve those who served,” Gilliland said. “That’s our slogan. This school, from the president down to the faculty, has been nothing but supportive in changing campus culture to be military friendly. It’s been great to be a part of this, a part of history.”