Veteran services

UHCL Veterans Services Office loses new director after just over three months – UHCL The Signal

The Captain Wendell M. Wilson Veterans Services Office is located on the third floor of the Student Services Building. Photo by The Signal reporter Jennifer Martinez.

The Captain Wendell M. Wilson Office of Veteran Services (VSO) is where “military-affiliated” students, approximately 10% of UHCL’s student population, can go for educational support, help and advice, or if they just want a place to relax to hang out and have a cup of coffee. The VSO suffered the loss of two directors and a coordinator last year, but that has not slowed the efforts of Natasia Pilling, Acting Coordinator of Veterans Services at UHCL, and other members. student staff who held the fort at the VSO.

Pilling assures the students that all is well. So far this semester, Pilling has certified approximately 700 students, and the office has maintained treatment schedules with no decrease in scheduling. Pilling said the Bureau’s first priority is to ensure that veterans and service members have access to and have the opportunity to succeed in higher education.

“Natasia has experience as a staff member keeping the lights on,” said David Rachita, Dean of Students. “The Student Affairs Division was very impressed with Natasia’s level of professionalism and the knowledge and experience she brings to the office.”

After months of planning and effort led by a group of veteran students, the VSO emerged in 2013 as a full-time office on the UHCL campus. Trisha Ruiz and Jay Hernandez were hired as the VSO’s director and coordinator, respectively. Ruiz resigned as manager in July 2018. Thereafter, Hernandez took over as head of the VSO until he too quit on October 19, 2018, about two and a half months later.

Pilling, who graduated from UHCL as a veteran student using the Post-9/11 GI Bill with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, was hired as a VSO program assistant in August 2018. Pilling, as a coordinator by acting, was in charge of the office during the search process for a new administrator: Oct. 19, 2018 – June 3, 2019.

UHCL welcomed new VSO director Phil Gore, former director of military and veterans affairs at Georgia Southern University, on June 3, 2019. In a July 2019 article by The Signal titled “New UHCL VSO director aims to create culture change, to increase understanding of the needs of military-affiliated students,” Gore expressed his enthusiasm for making UHCL a center of excellence for military student success, including four new programs to be implemented.

PHOTO: Phil Gore standing in front of flags.  Photo courtesy of UHCL.
Phil Gore officially took over as Director of Veterans Services at UHCL on June 3 and left on September 13. Photo courtesy of UHCL Marketing and Communications.

Gore left UHCL and the VSO on September 13, just over three months after accepting the position. Once again, Pilling took the lead in the VSO.

“The University as a whole and the Student Affairs Division have been open in offering and providing support to our office in any way we needed,” Pilling said. “I’m sure everything will be fine.”

Pilling said that due to the fact that she was doing much of the work by herself and with her 6 students, there were no office closures, other than normal university closures.

“She did a fantastic job last year when the then manager and assistant manager took up positions elsewhere, which means she knows exactly what to do this time around,” Rachita said. “In fact, the students probably won’t even feel the difference because she now knows from experience what they will already need, and she knows how to get there.”

The VSO helps veteran students with everything from trouble with a Blackboard program to helping students facing homelessness or financial issues. For example, the office has a personal hygiene pantry and can provide referrals to university and community resources. They also help administer parking permits for disabled veterans with qualified license plates, disabled VA representatives, and graduation cords.

“My services weren’t affected at all,” said Daniel Ewing, a management information systems specialist and Air Force veteran.

Services apply to those in the student population who are “military related”, this includes veteran students and dependent veterans who may also be eligible, assuming they meet all service requirements and qualify.

“The VSO is in place to help resolve any questions and concerns regarding military education benefits,” Pilling said. “All federal education benefits, such as the Post 911 GI Bill, as well as state benefits such as HB 269 for undergraduates and the State Hazelwood benefit, are processed through the VSO.”

For students with benefits such as the Post 911 GI Bill, as well as vocational rehabilitation and employment students, pay tuition directly to the institution. Thus, a considerable amount of money enters the institution thanks to the tenth of the student population who use this type of educational benefit.

Anthony Fogg, who is the president of the Association of Veteran Students, said he had a hard time getting students to join or even respond to his emails.

“I’ve noticed that veterans often take a hands-off approach to the institutions they attend until their education funds are affected,” Fogg said. “I believe students should be the ones to step up and be involved in the program and the office that represents them.”