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Sunday, September 22, 2019

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VSOC counselor helps combat obstacles for military veteran students


The VetSuccess on Campus program, under the guidance of counselor Ralph Harrison, has been making a difference for many military veteran students at UH since its establishment in Oct. 2013.

The VSOC program is a nationwide effort by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to guide veterans through their college careers and educate them on the benefits available to them after serving.

“The VA has been doing really well with putting people out into the community, instead of just sitting in the office over there where nobody will see them,” Harrison said. “Here we can make direct contact with people. Basically, I’m the face of the VA here at UH.”

As a link between UH and the VA, Harrison is a one-stop liaison, helping veterans with everything from information on educational benefits, to college credits, to life insurance information and referrals on and off campus.

Harrison helps veterans combat mental disabilities and get back on their feet. | Michael Calderon/The Cougar

Harrison helps veterans combat mental disabilities and get them back on their feet. | Michael Calderon/The Cougar

As a certified rehabilitation counselor, Harrison specializes in helping veterans with disabilities.

“It’s really a hurdle for veterans to admit that they have either mental or physical disabilities; most of them don’t want to say they have a problem,” Harrison said.

“Being here in the office lets them to talk to other veterans, share experiences and allows them to seek help as well.”

One of the biggest part of Harrison’s job is helping veterans understand the post-9/11 GI Bill and the benefits it entitles them to in their pursuit of an education.

“I wasn’t getting paid the amount that I need to survive for the month because the GI Bill hadn’t been correctly documented,” physics sophomore Tommy Wade said. “Mr. Harrison settled it for me in one day, which is a very big step toward well-being.”

The bill gives veterans up to 36 months of education in most cases, but what’s often not considered is that many of them are so far removed from their high school education that they have to catch up on basic courses, such as math and English.

Those courses take up benefits but don’t count toward their degree plan and effectively leave them short on benefits when it comes time to complete their degree.

“What I do is determine if they have a disability or not, because in many cases, they report injuries but have never applied for the benefits,” Harrison said.

“I can take their medical data and submit an application for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, which gives them an additional 12 months of education benefits, so they can then finish their degree.”

Aside from signing up veterans for additional programs, the VSOC program also deals with each case in a more in-depth manner than the VA office can provide.

“You get this one-on-one, personal interaction with Mr. Harrison here and you know he has your best interest at heart,” corporate communications junior Anthony Marks said. “He is going to provide us with everything you need to know, whereas other veteran service offices have to rush you out because of the volume of people they have to interact with on a day-to-day basis.”

The personable touch the VSOC provides has left many veteran students at UH appreciative to have the program on campus, as Harrison often goes above and beyond in helping those who come to him.

“The authority in which he handles the situation while still remaining sensitive to making you feel comfortable is just outstanding,” Wade said. “I feel like I am indebted to him because he is so good at what he does.”

For many veterans, the transition after leaving the military can be a tough one, but dealing face-to-face with someone who has been in their shoes goes a long way toward easing into it.

“After you serve, it’s like night and day. You come back to civilian life and it’s a different world,” Marks said.

“To have this comradery, to have these amenities and to be around other service members who have been through what you’ve been through and are trying to achieve what you’re trying to achieve is like a breath of fresh air.”

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