A recent report found that Michigan ranked dead last in the nation – behind Guam and Puerto Rico – for the number of veterans collecting the benefits they are entitled to receive. Kalamazoo Valley Community College, a 2014 designated Military Friendly School, is determined to change those statistics by expanding its veteran services department. The school currently has more than 600 student veterans and service members on campus.
“At Kalamazoo Valley, we are committed to doing whatever we can to impact these numbers,” Elizabeth Lyons, director of veteran services at Kalamazoo Valley Community College explained. “As a result, we don’t limit ourselves to merely helping veterans and service members access their educational benefits but all of their state and federal benefits. The addition of these services, all distinct in their offerings, provides students with a ‘one-stop-shop.’ Students can come in, get their questions addressed, connect with the benefits they desire, and get to work at pursuing their education.”
Kevin Vail, a U.S. Navy veteran, is on campus full time as an engagement and outreach associate through the newly created VetSuccess AmeriCorps program. The program, the only one of its kind in the state of Michigan, is dedicated to bridging the gaps between the military, academic life and achievements.
In his new role, Vail will:
• Expand an on-campus peer-to-peer mentor program
• Coordinate outreach and marketing events
• Develop a “company” of student veteran volunteers
• Provide guidance and referrals to student veterans for support resources
• Assist student veterans in utilizing existing programs and online assessment tools
Vail will augment the work of Brent Haddow, a U.S. Air Force veteran and VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) counselor. He has been assisting Kalamazoo Valley students with vocational rehabilitation and benefits-related questions since 2012. The VSOC program, developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2009, aims to help veterans, service members and their qualified dependents succeed through a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance and counseling - leading to the completion of their education and preparing them to enter the labor market in viable careers. Kalamazoo Valley is one of 94 VSOC sites across the country. Haddow is in the office Tuesdays and Wednesdays only.
Additionally, students and community members can find Aaron Edlefson, a veterans service specialist with the Kalamazoo County Veterans Service Office and an active U.S. Marine Corps reservist, on campus the first and third Monday of each month from 8:30 a.m. -12 p.m. Edlefson, who served two tours in Iraq, welcomes not just students but veterans from the area to contact him on campus.
“Kalamazoo Valley is committed to serving all of our veterans in the region, not just our own students, and we recognize that the Kalamazoo County Veterans Service Office is an extraordinary asset that many may not know about,” Lyons said. “By providing Mr. Edlefson with an on-campus office our students can more easily access the benefits they are eligible to receive. Similarly, having an office site at our Texas Township Campus provides all local veterans with one more location site to visit. It’s all about a commitment to efficiency and reducing the barriers to access.”
Edlefson can assist with the following:
• Claims filing for VA disability benefits
• Dependents and survivors benefits
• VA Home Loan Guaranty
• Burial and headstone benefits
• Education benefits
• Medical treatment
• Military records and medals
• Emergency financial aid
• Michigan Veterans Trust Fund Agents
• Assistance referrals
• Transport to the VA Medical Center in Battle Creek
Vail, Haddow and Edlefson work in Room 3384 on Kalamazoo Valley’s Texas Township Campus.
Photo, left to right: Brent Haddow, Kevin Vail and Aaron Edlefson.