Veterans find resources through new Southern Utah University support center

Attendees honor the flag with their hands on their hearts as the SUU Band plays the Star Spangled Banner, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

CEDAR CITY – Veterans, active and inactive service members and their families now have a place to turn in Cedar City when they need to understand and access services and benefits available to them.

Veterans Center director Caleb Vadnais welcomes attendees to the opening for the Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Veterans Center Director Caleb Vadnais welcomes attendees to the opening for the Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The Southern Utah University Veterans Support and Resource Center officially opened its doors to students and the general public Tuesday with a celebration to honor the United States Armed Forces in the Sharwan Smith Rotunda and a ribbon cutting at the door to the new center.

Gregory Holmes, a junior hospitality major from Rancho Cucamonga, California, is the president of Southern Utah University Student Veterans of America Chapter.

After 15 years of active service in the U.S. Air Force including tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Holmes said entering civilian life was like indefinitely falling without a net to catch him.

There was nowhere to turn for information about support when he returned from his duties overseas, Holmes said, and having that would have made all the difference in the world.

“I mean, when you go over there and you see some of the things that you see and you come back, it’s mind boggling,” Holmes said. “So for a center like this — it’s life changing.”

Southern Utah University Student Veterans of America President Gregory Holmes cuts the ribbon, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Southern Utah University Student Veterans of America President Gregory Holmes cuts the ribbon, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The hope for the Veterans Center is that it can become a hub for anyone with a military background, Veterans Center Director Caleb Vadnais said.

“If you know it’s veteran’s related and you don’t know who to talk to, call us and let us help you,” Vadnais said.

The Veterans Center specializes in helping enroll students who are post-9/11 GI Bill eligible. However, Vadnais said, service men, women and their families will have access to a variety of resources and amenities there.

Outpatient VA medical assistance can be difficult for new residents in the area to navigate because the system to access those benefits is quite complex, Vadnais said. 

An emotional speech given by School of Business Dean, Carl Templin, who has served 22 years iwith the U.S. Airforce, sent audience members to tears, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
An emotional speech given by School of Business Dean, Carl Templin, sent audience members to tears. Templin has served 22 years with the U.S. Air Force, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

“To use the outpatient clinic that is set up through St. George, you actually have to go through Salt Lake,” Vadnais said. “You have to transfer all of your records to Salt Lake, and then you have to request for Salt Lake to send them to St. George … It’s a big mess, and it’s not documented anywhere on how to do it.”

From VA forms to life insurance, workers at the center have experience to help guide veterans through their benefits packages.

In addition to the bevy of resources available to military families through the Veterans Center, there is also a conference room for meetings and a small lounge with a television, refrigerator, comfy seating and tables to work or relax in.

Part of what’s important about the center is the camaraderie shared, Holmes said, adding that there is a sense of connection you get when you’re around someone else who has served.

“Nothing will ever help you to move past (what we’ve been through),” he said, “and I’m sure I’m speaking for all veterans when I say we won’t move past, but we will move forward.”

Retired Navy Captain Ron Lewis listens attentively as the SUU Band plays for the crowd, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Retired Navy Captain Ron Lewis listens attentively as the SUU Band plays for the crowd, Southern Utah University Veterans Resource and Support Center, Cedar City, Utah, March 22, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The Veterans Center has been in the works for a long time, said Jonathan Puente, Southern Utah University Executive Director for Access and Inclusion.

“When you start a center, you don’t just start a center,” Puente said. “You need university backing, so it’s taken us about two years; and then we got a grant from Home Depot and the SVA.”

The grant was used to remodel the small space the center had to work with to make it a functional area that would meet the needs of the center’s demographic.

Retired Navy pilot Ron Lewis attended the opening in full regalia. He was there to support the younger generation, he said.

“I wanted to show them that it doesn’t matter what your pay grade is — a veteran is a veteran,” Lewis said. “Our freedoms today have a lot to do with their service.”

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Lewis said he was spit on when he came home.

“Things are different when they come home today,” he said. “I mean, when we came home we were told to take our uniform off before we go out in public.”

The Veterans Support and Resource Center is a declaration of the support and commitment that Southern University has for their veteran students, said Bradley J. Cook, university provost.

The university has added more programs that are attracting veterans, he said, explaining that the new helicopter program was a perfect example, with nearly 95 percent of their student body composed of students with military backgrounds.

“They’re a unique and special community,” Cook said. “They add to the diversity of our campus because of so many different backgrounds.”

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Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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