Senator Patty Murray visits campus

By: Tyler Kirk

President Kathi Hiyane-Brown, Whatcom student and veteran David Aguilar, Veterans’ Services Coordinator Jarid Corbitt, Senator Patty Murray, and Whatcom student and veteran Robert Rayford. Photo by Dylan Nelson.
President Kathi Hiyane-Brown, Whatcom student and veteran David Aguilar, Veterans’ Services Coordinator Jarid Corbitt, Senator Patty Murray, and Whatcom student and veteran Robert Rayford. Photo by Dylan Nelson.

Whatcom Community College welcomed U.S. Senator Patty Murray Thursday, April 24, for a roundtable discussion on veteran care in Washington state.

Murray met with some of Whatcom’s student veterans and veteran services staff, along with representatives from Western Washington University, Bellingham Technical College, Everett Community College, and Skagit Valley College to discuss current veteran benefit programs that are in place in these schools.

Whatcom President Kathi Hiyane-Brown commented on the visit in a press release about the event.

“We were honored to welcome Sen. Murray to campus,” Hiyane-Brown said. “We valued this opportunity for the senator to have a first-hand look at the meaningful work that is being done on our campuses on behalf of student veterans.”

According to the press release, the discussion focused

largely on the transition veterans experience when they leave military service and return to civilian life. Murray also talked with the students about their experience attending college after their service.

David Aguilar is a Whatcom student and Marine Corps veteran who uses the education benefits available to him. These benefits, such as the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, help veterans and their dependents with tuition and other costs associated with higher education.

“I never thought of going to college,” Aguilar said, “but because I had my G.I. Bill, I decided to.”

He said that while there is typically a transition period of one year allowing veterans time to convert from military service into common resident life, he only had a month or two. Aguilar said he served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006.

Murray’s visit also focused on veterans’ access to education benefits, their experiences with these benefits, and the efficiency of veteran coordination services in Washington colleges and universities. Both veterans and their advisors talked about their experience with education benefits after service. Students discussed their positive experiences with the veteran-staffed Veterans Office, both for assisting them in receiving veteran benefits and for serving as academic advisors throughout their educational careers.

Whatcom’s Veterans Service Coordinator Jarid Corbitt discussed Murray’s visit and the positive impression left on those at the meeting.

“I was really impressed with her genuine concern for the issue,” Corbitt said. “She listened, had genuine questions. She wanted to make sure that [students] were heard. She offered some really great solutions [and] a snapshot of what she’s working on on a federal level.”

Aguilar explained that with roughly 250 veterans enrolled at Whatcom, veterans’ experiences in a community college setting are often much different than they would be at a university.

“What separates [Whatcom] from the university is we treat our future prospects like human beings,” he said. “We’re not a factory; we’re supposed to be here supporting individuals.”

Aguilar said his experiences with Whatcom’s veteran services have been positive, partially because of the emphasis Whatcom places on the success and wellbeing of each individual student.

“I’ve been doing great because of the support of fellow veterans,” he said. “I’m building my foundation.”

The visit also gave veterans a chance to thank Murray for her advocacy for veteran care.

Murray currently serves as Chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and has backed several initiatives in the Senate both to preserve existing benefits and to increase access to post-service educational benefits.

She has received several awards from various military service groups, including Legislature of the Year and Person of the Year, for her work with several generations of veterans spanning from the Vietnam War to the present, according to her website.

“It was an honor to sit down with student veterans and their academic advisors, who have been outstanding advocates in the community and will be leading the fight for our veterans in Bellingham in the years to come,” said Murray, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Veterans Affairs. “I will take the stories I heard back to Washington, D.C. with me as I continue to work to ensure our young veterans have a seamless transition into higher education.”



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