September 01, 2011

SIUC Veterans Center wins state grant

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will continue to offer a variety of services to its student veterans through an Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs grant.

The state agency today (Sept. 1) announced an $81,050 grant to the SIUC Veterans Center that will assist student veterans who need medical, dental and counseling services.  The grant will also provide funds for workshops on issues that range from understanding veterans’ benefits to improving their personal writing skills. 

This is the fourth consecutive year SIUC is receiving the grant, which comes from Illinois’ Veterans’ Cash Grant program.  The University has received $334,245 over the four years to provide services for student veterans. 

“We are proud of our history of meeting the needs of student veterans who have sacrificed so much for all of us,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  “The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs is an important partner in this effort, and we appreciate their confidence in our programs and our staff.”

SIUC’s grant was one of nine approved last month by the Veterans Cash Grant Committee.  The committee approved awards totaling $524,925.

“The Veterans Cash lottery ticket has been a fun, easy and unique way for Illinois citizens to help our veterans tackle many chronic and often debilitating conditions that affect them when they return to civilian life,” said IDVA Director Erica Borggren.                       

Kristen Amaya, the University’s Veterans’ Center coordinator, who wrote the “Victory through Education, Training and Support” (VETS) grant proposal, is pleased the funds will allow the University to continue its strong commitment to student veterans.  The grant runs through Aug. 31, 2012.

“I’m ecstatic,” Amaya said.  “In this economy everyone wants grant money so I knew it would be very competitive.  To know that we received more than we did last year is exciting. I can’t thank the campus community enough for its exceptional service to veterans through the previous SUCCESS Program; their reputation is what allows us to continue these services.”

There were 629 student veterans enrolled for the spring 2011 semester.

Student veterans will be able to obtain initial and ongoing services for little or no charge from the Community Dental Center, Counseling Center, Student Health Center, and Wellness Center.  The grant will also help subsidize programs, including online writing software to assist veterans who use the Writing Center, and the Student Veteran Organization, a registered student organization on campus.

Because the Veterans’ Administration provides dental services only for a service-connected injury or dental issue, the dental services’ component within the grant is popular for student veterans who require routine work, Amaya said.

The grant allows student veterans a chance to obtain services closer to home and campus, where there is less of a burden in traveling somewhere to receive medical treatment, Amaya said.

The facilities on campus “are such welcoming environments that are appreciated by our student veterans. To continue to receive care so close to campus with no front door fees and other associated costs means that our student veterans are more likely to get the care they need. Keeping them on campus results in fewer missed classes and a greater chance to succeed.”

The grant allows student veterans to “have the ongoing level of excellence that they are used to here,” said Kathleen Plesko, director of SIUC’s Disability Support Services.

Plesko secured the initial grants, and appreciates Amaya’s continuing efforts, and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs “generosity over the years.”

Plesko said her office will continue to work with veterans, providing the academic support services so that veterans who need assistance have extra time for tests, available note takers in the classroom, and adaptive technology, when needed. 

The University delivers when it comes to serving student veterans, Plesko said.  A recent summary by her office shows the University’s disabled student veterans are retained and graduate at a higher rate than non-disabled peers, and that veterans have a higher grade point average.

Over the previous grant period that ran from Aug. 1, 2010 to July 31, 505 veterans made 4,661 visits to use medical, physical therapy, wellness and sports medicine and socialization services at no cost, and 77 veterans received dental care in 209 visits, Plesko said.

The Veterans Cash Lottery, a $2 scratch-off lottery game started in February 2006, funds the program.  One hundred percent of the proceeds go to support Illinois veterans through the Illinois Veterans’ Assistance Trust Fund.  Since 2006, the program has awarded more than $8.4 million to organizations across Illinois that support veterans.

More information on the SIUC Veterans Center,, is available at 618/453-1347 or by email at  The Veterans Center is in Woody Hall, B258.