Head into UNO's Eppley Administration Building, walk toward the admissions office, and across the hall you will find an oasis for troops who once fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The veteran student lounge is a place for active-duty service members and vets alike to study, surf the Internet or sit and chat.
And that lounge, which is connected to a one-stop service office for the school's 1,132 military-affiliated students, is one reason why a military magazine now considers the University of Nebraska at Omaha one of the country's most military-friendly colleges.
“Veterans are used to that camaraderie, so it's kind of nice when they can find people who have been through some of the same things they have been through,” said Hayley Patton, director of the service office. “They can connect with people who have their same experience.”
Military Times, a well-known military publication and website, lists UNO as the sixth-most-military-friendly college in the country, according to its Best for Vets 2013 list released this month. Eastern Kentucky University is first in the magazine's rankings, while UNO sits ahead of the University of Kansas (tied for ninth), Chadron State College (11th) and Bellevue University (tied for 58th). No other Nebraska or Iowa colleges — including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — are on the list.
UNO ranked ninth on the Military Times' list last year. The university's move up the rankings comes after the school opened its veteran service office, informally known as MaV USO, in April.
That office now gets up to 50 visits and phone calls a day, Patton said. Those calls and visits spike around the first of every month, as veterans get their monthly stipends and other benefits as part of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Javier Saldana Jr. is a Nebraska National Guard member who spent most of 2011 in Afghanistan. Now he's a sophomore at UNO, and a part-time worker in the service office. He's often on the other end of the line when a veteran or active-duty service member calls with a question.
“If they call me and say 'Hey, I didn't get my money,' I get that,” Saldana says. “It's frustrating to me, too, because I know that's how you pay your bills. I'm in their same shoes.”
UNO's proximity to Offutt Air Force Base means that a large number of veterans have always attended the college, officials say. But in recent years UNO has attempted to beef up its veterans services and attract a larger share of the hundreds of thousands of airmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers using the G.I. Bill as the post-9/11 wars wind down.
This year, the 1,132 veterans and active-duty military members enrolled at UNO make up more than seven percent of the school's total student body.
Online programs now allow a UNO student to continue taking classes even if he or she deploys, Patton said, and those service members are first in line to register for classes when they return home. The service office is open daily, explaining the various benefits that a veteran can receive to pay for textbooks, tuition and rent.
The school also has recently partnered with two local organizations, the Omaha Vet Center and At Ease, which offer anonymous free counseling and group sessions for veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, battling depression or simply having a hard time readjusting to civilian life.
The Omaha Vet Center, which is affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs, holds a PTSD support group on campus. At Ease, a program offered through Lutheran Family Services, may offer on-campus counseling soon, Patton said.
“Going to school is stressful to begin with,” Patton said. “If you are dealing with PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, depression, that's going to make it more difficult. We don't want to hinder their success at getting a degree. We want to help.”
Click here to view the entire Best for Vets 2013 list.
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