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Friday, September 25, 2020

Changes on the horizon for Veteran Services Office

Restructuring, incoming personnel are among the changes. // Photo by Jaden Moon

By Anelyse Morris

Veterans Day may have passed, but the Veteran Services office on campus is busier than ever. Over one month after losing the School Certifying Official, responsible for verifying student schedules for financial aid purposes, the office now faces more personnel loss and a possible restructuring.

The office’s mission is to ensure that students who use Veteran Affairs benefits are receiving those benefits, as well as to provide a community of support to veterans and their dependents, said Janice Olivia Heebsh, Associated Students veterans community coordinator.

Heebsh said since Wendy Gegenhuber retired as the School Certifying Official, the office has been “like the wild west,” because of many recent changes. Though Katie Chugg filled the role of School Certifying Official on Nov. 13, the office is now scrambling to find a replacement for Assistant Director of Veteran Services Ann Beck, whose last day was on Nov. 14, Heebsh said.

In an email, Dean of Students Ted Pratt said in the wake of Beck’s departure, the office has been overseen by former Equal Opportunity & Employment Diversity Specialist, Nick Sanchez. Sanchez spent the past three years working in the Equal Opportunity Office and is also a Marine Corps veteran.

Pratt said he feels confident in Sanchez’s leadership of Veteran Services because of his personal and professional experience, and that Sanchez and Registrar David Brunnemer are working together to hire a replacement to fill Beck’s vacant role.

“We felt it important that Veteran Services continue to receive strong leadership and support for our valued service women and men seeking to continue their education on Western’s campus, and feel that [Sanchez] has the knowledge and skill set to provide that leadership,” Pratt wrote.

Heebsh said despite uncertainty and potential changes, the Veteran Services office and its employees are especially important for student advocacy.

“If [student veterans] fail classes, the VA could revoke our benefits and most of us cannot afford to pay for tuition without them,” she said. “So we need those advocates to go to bat for us.”

Beck said that regardless of what may happen, students must take priority.

“I just really want to make sure that no matter what things come down the road, our students don’t suffer from it,” she said. “The veteran’s community is really adaptable and resilient. They’ll always adjust, it’s just trying to make sure that we don’t lose anyone in the process.”

Chugg said getting to know the student veteran community at Western is what she is looking forward to most in her new role.

“I am thrilled about all the transfer students and freshmen I will get to meet as they start at WWU,” Chugg said. “I love hearing their hopes and dreams, and developing relationships with them along their educational journey.”


Update: This story was revised on 12/02/2018 to reflect new information from Dean of Students Ted Pratt.


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