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Luna unveils new veterans center

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By Martin Salazar

Officials at Luna Community College marked Veterans Day by holding a grand opening ceremony for the school’s new Veterans Resource Center.

“When we work together, we accomplish things,” said Luna board member Ernie Chavez, who has advocated for increased services to veterans.

Chavez, a veteran of the Vietnam War himself, said veterans have a hard time transitioning from a war zone to civilian life, and he expressed hope that the new center would help veterans through that process.

“I’m so thrilled, I don’t know what to say,” Chavez said.

The Veterans Resource Center is a new office at Luna where veterans and their dependents can go to get information about educational benefits they’re entitled to. They will be able to get academic and career advisement there, along with peer-to-peer mentoring and group counseling.

The office will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and will be available to prospective, current and past student veterans and their dependents.

Veterans Resource Center Coordinator Melissa Lopez has said the center is currently trying to establish itself as a designated worksite for eligible veterans and their dependents. The designation frees up resources to allow qualified veterans and their dependents to work in the resource center.

Elaine Luna served as master of ceremonies for Monday’s grand opening, held in Luna’s board room. The West Las Vegas High School mariachi group played the National Anthem for the event. Among those who attended the ceremony were Mayor Alfonso Ortiz Jr., and District Judge Matthew Sandoval.

“We have a strong tradition of working with veterans at Luna Community College,” said board Chairman Abelino Montoya. Montoya, who also served in Vietnam, said the center is something the board has been working toward.

He noted that it’s because of veterans and those who died on the battlefield that we still have our freedoms.

Luna’s veterans center is collaborating with the UNM-Taos Veterans Upward Bound program. Luna is also using funds it received from the Legislature to help retain and graduate students to pay for the center.

The college’s decision to open the Veterans Resource Center has drawn praise from members of the congressional delegation.

Carlos Sanchez, a representative of Sen. Tom Udall, read a letter from the center congratulating Luna. Paula Garcia, a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, read letters from both Luján and Heinrich, also congratulating Luna for what it is doing.

“You know Las Vegas and surrounding communities care about veterans when they have these types of resources,” she said.