Veteran resource center opens at DL tech college
Though the return of local National Guardsmen stationed in Iraq has now been postponed until at least July or August, plans for the assistance of those troops in reintegrating into civilian life once they return continue unchecked.
One of the people at the forefront of the reintegration effort is Dave Bellefeuille, who serves as director of veteran services in northwest Minnesota for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.
Bellefeuille has been in charge of establishing Veterans Resource Centers on the campuses of all public, post-secondary schools in northwest Minnesota that are part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Among them is the Detroit Lakes campus of Minnesota State Community & Technical College, which opened its own VRC last month.
"Detroit Lakes has just done a phenomenal job (with establishing its VRC)," Bellefeuille said. "This is one of the model centers in the state."
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation aimed at facilitating the reintegration of returning troops into civilian life, which included a provision requiring all schools in the MnSCU system to provide space for a Veterans Resource Center on their campuses.
"It's not really a new concept," Bellefeuille noted, but this is the first time that the state has taken charge of the reintegration effort to this degree.
The initiative to establish VRC's on all college campuses began with a $600,000 annual, five-year appropriation from the Legislature that resulted in the set up of six regional veterans' assistance offices in August.
Detroit Lakes is one of the first campuses in the region to have its center up and running; the facility was dedicated in November.
Part of the effort to set up MSCTC's center was organized by students, who decorated the freshly painted walls with original murals that depict logos from various Armed Forces divisions as well as other patriotic themes.
The furniture inside the center was donated by local businesses and individuals, Bellefeuille added, noting that the DL center had a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere.
But because Bellefeuille also works at seven other VRC's in the region, he only gets to use his office in Detroit Lakes one day per week.
"I'm usually here Mondays," he said. However, because he is based in Moorhead, appointments can be scheduled for other days as well.
In addition to establishing the VRCs, Bellefeuille is also charged with "assisting veterans and their families with utilizing all the resources that they might be entitled to," by providing them with information, resources and referrals about benefits, such as funding for education under the G.I. Bill, psychological assistance and physical injury support.
The center on the Detroit Lakes campus is primarily intended for veterans who are students at the college, and their families, but Bellefeuille said, "We don't check ID's at the door. If someone has a next door neighbor serving in the military and has questions, we're not going to turn them away."
Eventually, Bellefeuille hopes to obtain state funding for additional staffing, so someone can be available every day, Monday through Friday.
"Dr. (Ann) Valentine and Helene Hedlund (dean of student affairs) have been very helpful," Bellefeuille added. ""Dr. Valentine has taken a huge leadership role in overseeing this project (there are VRCs on the Moorhead and Wadena campuses of MSCTC as well) and making sure everything we needed has been delivered.
"This is a very welcoming site."
To reach Bellefeille with questions, call him at 218-831-0291 (cell) or send him an e-mail at email@example.com.