Rachel Thornton doesn’t want to charge military veterans to attend veterans appreciation events.
Thankfully, she doesn’t have to. Whether it’s a tailgating event or one of the numerous services offered through the Campus Veterans Association at The University of Alabama, Thornton can rely on the generosity of the UA and Tuscaloosa community to help fund their endeavors. She may not know when or from whom the next helping hand will arrive, but support is always there.
Last week, the Disabled American Veterans became the latest organization to donate to the CVA, presenting a $1,000 check to Thornton, CVA president.
“My job is now coming to school, so trying to balance that and figure out how I’m going to have income … that’s a situation many student veterans have to navigate,” said Thornton, an Air Force veteran and civil engineering major at UA. “Gifts like this provide veterans more opportunities to be more comfortable on the civilian side. Hopefully we can reduce their anxiety about coming to school.”
The DAV has more than 80 chapters throughout the state, including three volunteers at its on-campus chapter. DAV representatives assist in the often intimidating process of applying for federal medical benefits, said Michael George, retired UA registrar, and leader of UA’s on-campus, volunteer-staffed DAV office. The claims process has been eased since forming an on-campus presence at the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, George said.
“By no means do they have to fund us,” Thornton said. “The DAV does so much for our veterans. It’s a complicated process, so much harder than anyone could imagine. Getting a gift like this means so much.”
The VMA and CVA coffers were bolstered earlier this year through Operation Hat Trick, a national organization that, through co-branded merchandise, raises money for select veterans organizations. The University of Alabama Trademark Licensing Office, housed in the Athletics Department, was awarded the inaugural Service Award by Operation Hat Trick for its support of Operation Hat Trick during the past year, through promotional campaigns of UA gear co-branded with Operation Hat Trick.
The award resulted in Operation Hat Trick donating $5,000 on behalf of the Alabama Licensing Program to a local veterans organization. Through a thorough review of local organizations related to supporting service men and women, the University selected the Alabama Marines Foundation to receive the award due to their on-going efforts to serve and assist those that have served our country. Upon notice of receiving the donation, and after a subsequent meeting with their board of directors, the Alabama Marines Foundation alerted the Alabama Licensing Program and Alabama VMA that they were going to use the $5,000 donation for The University of Alabama by way of the Veteran and Military Affairs Scholarship Fund targeting injured combat veterans, including those diagnosed with PTSD.
The $5,000 award will be used to create an emergency fund in January through which student veterans can receive up to $500 to cover a variety of expenses.
“The support veterans receive from dependents on campus, students and the University itself is a vital component to a thriving veterans population here,” said Tyler Hohbach, senior management information systems major and Army veteran. “You have students like (SGA officer) Jordan Forrest, who created the SGA military dependent scholarships. She has no real connection to the military, but she simply cares.
“Veterans, we’re not ones to be vocal and complain, so when things aren’t going right, it kind of goes unnoticed because no one is making noise about it. But we have people on campus who connect with us, and Alabama does a great job at listening.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.