Written by Chris Henao Wednesday, 18 September 2013 00:00
From the 800,000 military veterans now attending U.S. colleges, an estimated 88 percent of students drop out within the first year and only three percent graduate. At Farmingdale State College, Eric Farina, a 10-year Army veteran, took on the position as the Veterans Affair’s Program Director because he wanted to “stay in the fight” after serving in all components of the U.S. Army, Active, Reserve, National Guard, and the Active Guard-Reserve Program.
With his military career no longer compatible with the family lifestyle, Farina longed for a position that could fulfill his desire to serve his country. Like many other former military members, he took on the challenge of starting something that would take hard work and determination. He found this challenge at Farmingdale State College.
There was no specific person or program assigned to helping veterans at the college before Farina took over the program two and a half years ago. In the past, a member of the registrar’s office would process the paperwork and act as a liaison for veterans applying to Farmingdale State College. Since the liaison had other duties working in the registrar’s office, the school decided to bring in some outside help with experience in dealing with veterans.
Registering for school as a veteran entails different processes then the average student, mainly dealing with Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. With the combination of being a public school teacher for eight years in Atlanta, GA, and the years of military experience, it was a perfect fit. The Veterans Affair’s Organization was erected with Eric Farina as the director.
Since Farina has taken over the veterans’ affairs, operations have run a lot smoother. Even with the 175 veterans under his watch, he is a “one man show” with some help from VA work study students. He says his “relationship building with other departments” is the key to helping veterans navigate through the application process.
Farina meets with veterans in a hands on attitude, physically walking with veterans to different departments introducing and familiarizing them with the campus. Farina feels that his veteran status gives him “instant credibility.”
Understanding where veterans have been, what they have done, instantly forms a bond that couldn’t be achieved otherwise.
He does more than just help veterans register for school. Farina has an email distribution of nearly 200 veterans, current and alumni, to whom he sends information about jobs, fundraising events, and volunteer opportunities.
The organization also works hand-in-hand with the disabilities office on campus. The disabilities office has become much more than a resource for students coming out of high school; they help combat veterans cope with the possibilities of traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputation, and PTSD.
In addition to some of the positive changes being made on campus the veterans’ club now meets on Tuesdays during the regular semesters; this is another outlet for veterans to come together and share their experiences. They hold activities on and off campus, such as this past winter’s Hurricane Sandy cleanup in Lindenhurst. They also actively march in the New York City’s Veterans Day Parade each year showing pride for the military as well as the school.
One of Farina’s goals is to start a non-profit organization called the Long Island Veterans Initiative at Farmingdale. The “LIVAF” as he put it, is targeted to “Help bridge the gaps in veterans’ systems that are supposed to help homeless veterans.” According to Farina there are approximately 2,000 homeless veterans living on Long Island. He believes this is a growing epidemic that should not be overlooked.
Farina has no plans of leaving Farmingdale State College anytime soon and loves working with veterans. He enjoys solving problems for veterans and is “sort of being like a classroom teacher, as opposed to a principal.”