A new federal grant is set to help returning soldiers transition into college with training and mentoring programs.

The U.S. Department of Education grant will provide $1.25 million over five years for Santa Ana College’s Veteran Resource Center, which helps veterans with financial aid and career planning.

The resource center gives personal attention to returning soldiers and connects them with social services, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and hospital and mental health services. Staffers also work with veterans to develop education plans and hold career planning workshops.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), who represents the district and was instrumental in obtaining the grant, was on hand at an event last week in Santa Ana that raised additional funds for the center.

Over time, Sanchez said, she’s learned that veterans return home to a world without the routine they’re used to. The first six months stateside are a critical period to enroll vets into college and on a career track, she emphasized.

The goal of the center is to help vets develop a routine “so they can ease back into real life,” said Sanchez.

“What we need to do is to get them in,” she added, “get them on a routine again.”

Navy veteran Jorge Zuniga, who worked at the center and is now employed by the college, said the new funds will help fund counseling services.

The challenge for vets in general, he said, is getting support early on.

“It’s always the beginning, because you don’t know where to go,” said Zuniga, who served as a firefighter on an aircraft carrier.

Orange County is home to about 131,000 veterans, 6,800 of whom are low-income, 5,400 do not have a high school diploma and 60 percent do not have a college degree, according to the Rancho Santiago Community College District.

About 500 veterans attended Santa Ana College last year compared with a total student population of about 29,000.


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