After serving his country in the U.S. Army for five and a half years, Benjamin Sandoval decided to return to college to better provide for his family.
Sandoval enrolled at The University of Texas-Pan American because it was close to home and was helpful to veterans like him.
UT Pan American's Veteran Services Center handled much of the paperwork that needed to be done for him to receive his educational benefits available to him as a veteran. It also allowed him to become involved in veteran-student-related organizations and build camaraderie with others who have served in the military.
"Without this office I'd probably be lost," said Sandoval, who is working on a combined Bachelor of Science/Master of Science in accounting.
The center, which opened in 2009, helps veteran students and their dependents -- spouses and children -- with obtaining certification to receive state and federal educational benefits, as well as offers academic advising, counseling and other resources that benefit veteran students and their families.
Throughout the past four years, the center expanded from a small office space with just one computer on the second floor of the University Center Building to a larger space on the building's first floor that includes a lounge for veteran students and their loved ones to spend time and study. Veteran students and their dependents can come to the center to apply for financial aid and military educational benefits, register for classes, receive academic advising and spend time studying or resting between classes, said Elda Arriaga, manager of the Veterans Services Center.
"We are a one-stop shop," Arriaga said.
The center also houses a chapter of the Student Veterans of America and offers stoles for graduates to wear at their commencement ceremonies, she said.
For the third year in a row, UT Pan American has been named a Military Friendly School by Victory Media, which publishes veteran-themed magazines G.I. Jobs, Military Spouse and Vetrepreneur.
Each year, Victory Media compiles a list of higher education institutions that have programs and other services available to help service members transition into college and graduate.
This is the fifth year Victory Media has released the list, which assesses schools in 11 areas: military support on campus, academic credibility, percent of military students, academic credit for military service, flexibility for military students, veteran graduation rates, government approvals, student tuition assistance, student survey, employment rates and military spouse policies. With the help of Ernst &Young LLP, the veteran-owned publishing company surveyed more than 10,000 institutions throughout the country that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has approved for students to use their educational benefits.
There are 396 veteran students and 349 dependents enrolled at UTPA currently, Arriaga said.
Receiving the designation helps the University get its name out to veterans seeking higher education, she added. "I want veterans to know that there is a place they can come to and ask questions and feel that the University is supporting them," she said.