Gabriella Pinos/Assistant Entertainment Director
Small, diverse and close-knit – this accurately describes the veteran community, according to the Students Veterans of America at FIU.
Part of national non-profit organization that provides military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in and after college, the SVA chapter at FIU strives to accomplish this mission through their and resources.
“If it was [up] to me to define my main mission, it’s really to ensure that every single veteran here at school succeeds,” said Puentes.
Puentes, who served in the U.S. Navy as a personal specialist after high school, said she was motivated to join SVA when she saw a disconnect between Miami and the veteran community. Through her work, she hoped to bring attention to and fix the issues she noticed in and out of FIU.
“A lot of them really have the misconception of G.I. Joe or the veteran with PTSD or even myself,” said Puentes. “People look at me like, ‘You’re a veteran?’ Thankfully, there are a lot of organizations including ours as part of that movement to kind of bring that up to the city.”
That disconnect can also be felt in the workplace, according to Matthew DeBord, treasurer of SVA. For him, connecting veterans with outside organizations such as Warriors in the Workplace, an employment initiative geared toward veterans, can help ease them into a university and professional setting.
“One of our goals that I see for the student veterans is to help them, to smooth their transition from wherever they’re coming from, wherever their place may be prior to coming to university, from the point of them getting accepted at FIU,” said DeBord.
A sophomore majoring in accounting, DeBord served in the Marine Corps after the events of September 11 pushed him to join. After serving for 12 years, he is now retired and networks with veterans as part of SVA.
“I don’t seek after anybody that’s only going to help me out,” said DeBord. “I make sure that they’re going to help out the veterans as a whole, and that’s been one of the greatest things that I’ve done.”
Puentes, who became SVA president this semester, wants to dispel the common misconceptions associated with SVA and open discussion on veteran affairs and public perception. She is currently requesting a lounge and a mental health system exclusively for veterans at FIU.
As treasurer, DeBord has recently designed a stole for SVA graduates and extended the 10 percent discount at FIU Barnes and Noble Café to student veterans for the month of November, which he hopes will stay permanently.
In the future, DeBord wants SVA at FIU, and Veterans and Military Affairs as a whole, to be a hot spot for all veterans in Florida to attend events and make their voices heard. Through their efforts, Puentes wants SVA to not only advocate for student veterans on campus, but to motivate them in and out of college.
“I want them to inspire to keep pushing to make things better, not only for them but for the people who are coming behind them, to inspire them to teach non-veterans and form these relationships and be like, ‘Look, we have a lot to bring,’” said Puentes.