TWIN FALLS — After 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, Brian O’Rorke wants to help his fellow veterans navigate college.
He started Feb. 1 as the College of Southern Idaho‘s first veterans advocacy coordinator. He helps connect students with resources and other veterans on campus.
About a year ago, an employee in the registrar’s office who was handling the certification of veterans benefits under the GI Bill left the position. “At that time, the veteran students voiced a desire to have someone as their advocate, someone they could go to for more than just certifying benefits,” CSI registrar Michele McFarlane said.
CSI administrators talked about the topic. They decided to move the certification of veterans benefits to the financial aid department and to create a position that’s “an advocate outside of the finances,” McFarlane said.
CSI’s student body includes about 150 veterans, 92 of whom receive educational benefits or their beneficiaries do. As a community college, there’s a wide age range, from “the Vietnam War clear up to Afghanistan and the current Iraq conflict and everything in between,” McFarlane said.
CSI posted the veterans coordinator job in September. After an application and interview process, O’Rorke was hired. He said it’s an awesome opportunity to work with veterans and their families, and to help them have a good experience at CSI.
“I love my fellow veterans,” he said. “As you transition out of the military, a lot of the problems that veterans may have — including me — is not having a connection with fellow veterans.”
He wants to help bridge that gap.
O’Rorke officially retires Thursday from the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a fighter aircraft weapons maintainer. He was stationed at the Mountain Home Air Force Base a couple of times throughout his career, as well as in Europe and Asia.
As CSI’s new veterans coordinator, “first and foremost, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel in terms of the support systems,” he said, adding CSI was offering great services. But he wants to be the person students go to for help.
A lot of the veterans get disoriented, especially when they come straight out of the U.S. Armed Forces and are confused about benefits, O’Rorke said.
Ninety percent of the frustration with enrolling in college is red tape, he said. O’Rorke helps out in whatever way he can, including providing checklists for students, walking them through the steps personally they’ll need to take and helping them apply on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website for educational benefits.
“The other goal is to connect the veterans together,” O’Rorke said. “There’s a disorientation when you come out into civilian life, and that’s compounded by the educational system. I wanted them to have a person to go to to advocate.”
A big part of his job is communicating efficiently with veterans at CSI, he said. He revamped a veterans newsletter and emails students about campus events coming up, such as elections for CSI’s Veterans Club.
McFarlane said that one of the biggest needs is to help veterans find community similar to the sense of camaraderie they feel while serving.
“We didn’t have anything for veterans to fill that void when they left the military,” he said. “Brian has a unique skill set to provide that and is helping guide them along their educational journey.”