Veterans at Arapahoe Community College have a new home base at school.
The Veterans Service Center, which opened last month, was created by ACC to help meet the needs of the influx of veterans signing up for classes, said Nancy Nickless, Veterans Affairs certifying official and financial aid counselor for ACC.
“The center is meant to establish a sort of central command, a home base (where) they can come and get the information they need,” said Nickless, who’s been in her position since 2011. “It’s meant to help them adjust back into an educational setting and help them to be successful while they’re here.”
The center tries to offer all the resources and help a veteran might need while in school. And while it features amenities like computers and printers specifically for veterans’ use, making it easier to turn in a paper on time isn’t the center’s only purpose.
Along with starting a scholarship fund for veterans, which is run with the help of a group of vets, the center offers assistance with many issues veterans may face while trying to get an education. The center offers advice from other vets on professors who understand and accommodate issues veterans might face in the classroom to what paperwork they’ll need to complete to register for classes.
Paperwork can be the worst enemy when it comes to a veteran getting needed support. Nickless, since taking over her position in the financial aid office, has tried to become an expert in the vast amounts of paperwork necessary for securing VA benefits.
“It can be overwhelming, and with the delays with getting paid by the VA … it just adds to the frustration,” Nickless said. “If they have to go search for this information, it’s just mind-boggling how much is out there.
“We want to put everything in a nutshell for them.”
Beyond providing a guide to the VA’s bureaucracy, the center gives veterans a chance to be around people who understand what it’s like to have served.
“When I first got back, it was hard adjusting to being around people,” said Justin Wells. “It’s wonderful to have other soldiers around.”
Wells, who is accompanied by his service dog every day at school, served in the Army and did two tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. He said that having a place to get away from the crowds at school and to be around people who understand what he’s going through is invaluable.
“If I start to have a panic attack, it’s nice to know people around me know how to react,” Wells said.
Wells, who said he uses the center every day, currently has a 3.5 grade-point average and has started to become more comfortable socializing with his fellow students, progress he attributes to the center’s assistance.
“It’s great having people who understand what you’re going through while you’re in school,” said Christopher Fast, an Army veteran of the first Persian Gulf War.
Derek Varns, a member of the Colorado National Guard who served one tour in Afghanistan in 2011, said Nickless’ efforts have meant the world to the veterans at ACC.
“She has done so much and doesn’t take credit for it,” Varns said.
For her part, Nickless said she sees the center as one small way to repay veterans for their service.
“This center lets them know we are appreciative of everything they’ve done for us,” Nickless said.
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.