West Windsor, N.J. – Perhaps the most satisfying moment of the Veterans Day commemoration at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) was the cutting of the ribbon on a new Veterans Resource Center, located on the second floor of the Student Center.
As MCCC President Jianping Wang cut the ribbon with administrators,, students and community members, she said, “Today is a day to thank, celebrate and honor our veterans. But, most importantly, it is a day of action. We want our college to not only be military friendly; we want it to be a model for the nation.” She singled out John Becker, MCCC’s new Director of Veterans Services. “We are grateful for your leadership thus far. This room represents a first step.”
Student Paula Klockner, who comes from a military family and will complete her studies at Mercer in December, was instrumental in advocating for veterans during her years at Mercer. She said, “This is the culmination of the work of a small group of passionate people.”
Added Radiography student Carlos Molina, who served in the Navy for five years after graduating from Ewing High School in 2006, “We have space and windows and a nice layout. We can use this room to network and help each other. We feel we are being heard.” The room includes several computer stations, several couches and a meeting table.
The group next moved to the MCCC Conference Center, where a ceremony featured special guests Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and New Jersey Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, Deputy Speaker of the General Assembly and Vice Chair of the Assembly Veterans and Military Committee. (DeAngelo is a 1987 MCCC alumnus.)
Watson Coleman spoke of legislation she will introduce next week that will focus on improving services to veterans. The Veterans Affairs Public-Private Leasing Partnership Study Act of 2015 would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to study the feasibility of entering into public-private partnership agreements with underused medical facilities, particularly in urban and rural areas, allowing veterans to receive care without needing to travel long distances to VA facilities. In the process, hospitals struggling to stay open would have more patients to serve, increasing economic activity in those communities.
“This legislation would offer a combined solution to two major challenges – improving access to care for veterans, and keeping hospitals open in communities struggling economically,” Watson Coleman said. “Veterans frequently travel long distances, and over state lines, to get care. Some of them rely on public transportation, but are required to get to VA facilities only accessible by car. If there are ways to offer the same or better treatment and care for our veterans closer to their homes, while also keeping our hospitals open, we can’t afford not to take advantage of it.”
Assemblyman DeAngelo noted that his advocacy for veterans was spurred following his election to office in 2008. After meeting a soldier from Hamilton during a visit to an army base in Oklahoma, DeAngelo then met the man’s wife and mother after returning home. The sacrifice of this whole family was very real to him. “It changes you from being a supporter to an advocate,” he said.
The ceremony concluded with a moving presentation at a beautifully set table in the front of the room. The “Missing Soldier Table” has become a traditional part of modern military remembrance events. Lt. Col. Yvonne Harris-Johnson picked up each item on the table as John Becker explained its significance. “The chair is empty for they are not here. Grains of salt represent the countless tears of the families. The single red rose reminds us of loved ones who keep the faith awaiting their return. The burning candle and yellow ribbon symbolize everlasting hope of a reunion with the missing.”
Also participating in the ceremony were Executive Dean Diane Campbell and Reverend Bob Wittik.
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