By Lookout Staff
October 1, 2009 -- Known for its diversity, Santa Monica College is helping make a rapidly growing segment of its student body feel at home by opening a Veterans Center this semester.
Located in a small complex of former faculty offices, the center will help the college better serve a special population that numbers between 300 to 350 students who face a complex set of challenges and needs, SMC officials said.
"Veterans trust other veterans," says Linda Sinclair, the center's coordinator. "Some veterans just want a place to decompress or feel comfortable."
The new center goes far beyond providing an oasis of trust and comfort for these students, officials said. The facility has a part-time counselor, part-time secretary and part-time student assistant, herself a vet.
It also has a free textbook-lending library, a meeting room and a computer-tutoring room. In addition, there is an office where representatives from other SMC departments or outside agencies -- such as Financial Aid, Disabled Students and the Veterans Administration -- can come to provide assistance and guidance to the students.
Sinclair hopes to establish an emergency loan fund and hold brown bag lunches on veterans' topics.
Student veterans have complex problems and needs, officials said. They range from post-traumatic stress syndrome, brain injuries and substance abuse. Some also have to deal with financial problems, even with help from the G.I. Bill and other funding sources.
Some of the student veterans also have a difficult time adjusting to civilian and campus life. One of them is Adam Lybbert, who served in the military for four years, including seven months with a communications battalion stationed just outside Fallujah
"I honestly couldn't even deal with people when I came out of the Marine Corps," Lybbert said. "I was very on edge, so I needed to take a few months off. I know a number of guys who take time off and travel to figure out who they are."
Though Lybbert says he was "lucky" to remain mostly on base during his Iraq stint, he noted that he was in the area during the bloody Battle of Fallujah in late 2004 and that "I had several experiences with incoming fire and several close calls with that."
SMC has made great strides in handling veterans' issues ever since it recognized the need for specialized attention in 2005 and assigned Sinclair, a counselor, to this population, college officials said.
Sinclair teaches a Student Success Seminar specially tailored to veterans, volunteers with a Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome program for Vietnam vets and worked with the SMC Center for Students with Disabilities on an SMC-VA program to help returning soldiers with brain injuries.
"We're lucky to have these veterans home and lucky that SMC is a welcoming place for them," Sinclair said.
"It's important that we do all in our power to help these men and women get the education they need so they can write a fulfilling and successful new chapter in their lives."