Photo by Jon Endow/The American Legion

Legion helps Student Veterans of America fulfill its mission

More than 1,300 Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapters can be found on college campuses across the nation, providing a peer-to-peer network and camaraderie as those who have served in uniform work to achieve their educational goals. The American Legion has been an active supporter of SVA since its founding in 2008, working closely with the organization to improve the GI Bill, enhance academic counseling and fight for extended in-state tuition to veterans.

Nearly 1,700 SVA members and supporters, including The American Legion, gathered for the organization’s ninth annual national conference – NatCon2017– in Anaheim, Calif., Jan. 5-7, to network and share ideas.

“Student Veterans of America remains at its heart a grassroots, chapter-based organization that brings together veterans, military family members and civilians to support veterans’ success in higher education and beyond,” SVA President and CEO Jared Lyon told conference attendees. “A lot of veterans, when they get out (of the military), they miss that camaraderie of ours. That's the one common bond in all the branches is the camaraderie. For me, the (SVA) brings that.”

With its “Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders” theme, NatCon2017 provided 48 breakout sessions that addressed career readiness, higher education, research, student success, SVA chapter management and more. Companies in attendance like Raytheon, Microsoft, Prudential, The Home Depot and Disney also shared career opportunities and mentorship with conference attendees.

“Networking is probably the biggest piece (of the SVA conference),” said Eric Frey, who recently retired from the Oregon Army National Guard after 24 years and is a member of American Legion Post 20 in Dallas, Ore. “Not just networking with the corporate sponsors but networking with the graduate schools, networking between colleges.

“This is the next generation of bringing veterans together and using our service arcs to the betterment of our country. The American Legion started after World War I to bring all those veterans together, and this is the same mission.”

John Kamin, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division, spoke at the conference about how The American Legion is supporting student veterans through education, employment and business development. It was only a few years back that Kamin himself was a student veteran and an SVA member.

“In seeing the energy, excitement and unity of student veterans... it brings me right back to what drew me to a veterans organization in the first place – the belief that not only do our brothers and sisters deserve our support, but by advocating for them, it will make our country better,” Kamin said.

The Legion’s Washington office provided SVA its first office space until the organization was able to secure an office of its own in the nation’s capital. And together, the Legion and SVA have worked closely to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill, ensuring that institutions provide quality, accessible college educations that work for today’s veterans. Moving forward, Kamin said the Legion and SVA are crafting a memorandum of understanding that will provide communication opportunities.

While The American Legion and SVA have a successful relationship at the national level, the one at the local level is just as strong. Justine Evirs, program services coordinator for the Veterans Resource and Opportunity Center at the College of San Mateo in California, said the local American Legion Post 105 in Redwood City is one of their biggest supporters.

“We had to build relationships and build trust, but once we got it and they got it, we were off running,” Evirs said. Post 105 offered support by welcoming student involvement at the post and provided a meeting space for them. It was at Post 105 where a student veteran had a mixer and started a “Student Veteran of the Semester” scholarship.

“This scholarship was built to bridge the gap between all the previous wars and post-9/11 and trying to reshape that. That’s where (the post) really helped us and because of that their membership has increased and our membership has increased; everybody's happy.”

The crossover in membership led to new leadership at Post 105. SVA Chapter President Tianna Romero is currently the first vice commander of Post 105 and that has helped flourish the relationship with their community as a whole.

“We have a really good relationship with a lot of community partners because they support us and we support them,” Evirs said. “We all work really well together and I think it’s been an amazing experience, not without speed bumps for sure, but we all work very well together and now we're working on the district level, and it means a lot.”

The SVA conference strived to create a network that will last beyond the three days and be brought back to support fellow veterans.

“You represent a brilliant, diverse group of student veterans who are succeeding on college campuses nationwide,” Lyon said. “NatCon is about discovery. I hope that each of you have discovered at least one new thing about yourself and your fellow veterans. Take that discovery home and share it with anyone that will listen. Never forget, we are the rightful heirs to the greatest generation and the future leaders of America.

“The end of NatCon traditionally marks the beginning of a new year in supporting student veterans. Promise me that you’ll take the lessons learned, the friendships formed, the bonds strengthened, to elevate your SVA chapters, your campuses, and your communities so that you can always leave them better than you found them. Rest assured SVA is here for you.”

Resolution No. 20 was passed at the 2015 American Legion Spring National Executive Committee meeting, encouraging posts, districts and departments to network with selected post-9/11 generation groups like SVA, Team Rubicon, Team Red White and Blue and The Mission Continues. The resolution was driven through the 100th Anniversary Observance Committee as part of its "vision" strategy for the organization as it nears the beginning of its second century of service.

To see the resolution, click here: