Approximately 2.3 million veterans have returned home after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 47,000 are healing from physical wounds and countless others face emotional scars. These veterans have a higher rate of unemployment than civilians, with the latest numbers indicating that more than 13 percent are unemployed.
Many veterans are taking advantage of federal programs and incentives to go to college and find a new path for their lives. In the past three years, the number of Cayuga Community College students who are veterans has grown 400 percent, to approximately 150 students.
"These veterans require special support, advisement, and other services when they come to college," said College President Daniel P. Larson. "It makes sense that we provide these whenever we can as a team, instead of duplicating services."
To help facilitate that process, Cayuga Community College took the lead on a establishing a Veteran Regional Consortium, which includes representatives from nine academic institutions, Fort Drum, the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Representative Richard L. Hanna, and several organizations that support veterans.
"As we began trying to compile a list of local resources for veterans, it became clear that it would be helpful if there were a network of schools and resources that we could connect with," said Sarah Yaw, interim director of the Academic Support Center at the Cayuga CC Fulton Campus who chairs the Veterans Working Group and initiated the consortium. "All agreed that a consortium could help not only share resources and best practices among colleges, but it could also help address the challenges of veteran reintegration to civilian life in the region."
Invitations were sent to potential consortium members, and the response was outstanding, Yaw said.
The 32 people who attended the first meeting of the Veteran Regional Consortium identified three shared priorities: advocacy, sharing information and resources, and outreach to veterans returning to the region.
"With strong representation from higher education, the group hopes to maximize the role colleges and universities in the region play in connecting veterans with area resources and supporting a successful reintegration to civilian life," Yaw said. "We believe this unique approach of attracting veterans into our school then directing them out to veterans' resources could potentially serve as a national model for improving rural veterans' use of the services and programs available to them. We hope to make Central New York an attractive place for our veterans to come home to."
The consortium will meet again on March 14 at Syracuse University. Organizations or entities that would like to get involved in the group or believe they can contribute to its success are encouraged to contact Yaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-592-4143, ext. 3078.