Veterans learning to be a civilian again

Alexander Ramos knew he needed to find something to keep busy when he returned home to Southern California in 2009 after three tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps.

After taking classes at a local college, Ramos, 26,  enrolled at Cañada College in Redwood City last year and joined the Math, Engineering, Science Achievement program. He met people, studied at the MESA center and landed a laser research internship at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. MESA helped Ramos, who served two tours in Iraq, make the sometimes difficult adjustment back to civilian life.

For veterans now coming home from foreign wars, Ramos predicted the college’s new Veterans Resource and Opportunity Center — which formally opened on Wednesday — will be a big help.

“There’s a lot of people who are pretty timid when they get out of the military and they don’t know how to integrate back into the civilian world,” said Ramos, who is applying to universities to study electrical engineering. “I think it’ll be a good thing for people. … I didn’t have that, but I did kind of the same thing with the math center.”

The V-ROC, located inside the college’s Learning Center, was designed to be an inviting space for the college’s couple hundred veterans, with couches, a TV, refreshments and a colorful paint scheme.

Officials with information on a variety of services — including the GI Bill, counseling and Veterans Affairs benefits — will be there to offer help with minimal bureaucratic red tape, administrators said.

“There really is an intent on campus to serve veterans and to have a place where they can feel welcome,” said Margie Carrington, interim dean of student services.

It will also give veterans a space to socialize and hold events, something many colleges don’t have, said Kerri Childress, a spokeswoman for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

“Just being able to feel like you’re not the only one in the room, or the only one at college, who’s been through the experiences they’ve been through makes a big difference,” Childress said.

Many veterans have trouble reintegrating for a variety of reasons and don’t know where to get help, she said.

They may have medical issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder or an untreated traumatic brain injury. Or they might simply feel like a “fish out of water” after being away.

“College is often one of the first places they really try to fit back into, and it often doesn’t work,” Childress said. “There’s a high dropout rate.”

“It’s not just another social club for these guys,” Childress said of V-ROC. “It could potentially change their lives.”


For more information

Call the Veterans Resource and Opportunity Center at: (650) 306-3250

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