Rep. Greg Walden held a casual get-together with veterans-turned-students at Eastern Oregon University on Friday afternoon.
The students circled around Walden on the second floor of the Hoke Union and were encouraged to air their frustrations about the transition from active military duty to becoming a student.
“The transitioning and getting here is easy,” said Matt Bensen, one of 38 veterans enrolled on campus. “The (problematic) thing for me is finding information about jobs and housing. It’s a challenge. It took me so much time to find out who to talk to. It was word of mouth.”
Bensen said it took him two years to get the information he wanted about what resources were available to him as a vet.
The student vets in attendance acknowledged that EOU was a veteran-friendly place.
“My job is to work with the (veteran) students and help them,” said Dorothy Jones, who assists the vets with filling out applications to receive their benefits.
Jones said the veteran population is up 25 percent this year in the student body. She said there are approximately 250 student vets enrolled at the university, but not all of them are on campus.
She said oftentimes the vets are too busy to come together as a group and meet one another.
“We have to do something to get them active on campus with other (veterans),” she said.
There is a room situated in Inlow Hall specifically slated for the vets to use as a study room or just a place to go when they’re on campus. Most of the time it’s not utilized, Jones said.
She said a lot of the time, the student vets don’t come to her for help.
“I see some of them for the first time at their commencement ceremony,” she said.
Jones said it may be the fact that these vets have families and friends that keep them busy, and the students don’t necessarily need to seek out other veterans or use her as a resource.
This was one stop of many for Walden recently. He said he’s been meeting with veterans to see what’s been working in the system and what hasn’t.
“It’s pretty much the same frustrations,” he said of the common complaints. “Getting access to health care in a timely manner. Getting the care they need.”
The issue of medical care was brought up at EOU on Friday. The student vets said it is difficult to get the
medical care they need here in La Grande.
Walden said that’s not a unique issue.
“Outside of Medford at their VA clinic, two-thirds of the physician positions are vacant,” Walden said. “Wherever you are, there are going to be issues. There’s delay of care.”
Walden cited computer problems as the main culprit.
“We’re not building rockets,” he said. “We’re trying to push the VA to update their software to commercial software instead of using their own. That’s what we’re working on. My job is to cut through the red tape. Working with vets is half the case work that comes through my office.”