GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – According to John and Jacqueline Hinker, finding resources and information as a veteran was difficult before events like Stockton University’s second annual Community and Veteran Resource and Wellness Fair held Nov. 1 at the Campus Center.
John Hinker, an Army veteran and current junior vice commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of New Jersey, has been a part of the VFW for 18 years. In his role, he is able to help other veterans get the resources and support they need.
“You know, it touches me every time I get to come out and be able to talk to our new friends that we found today and to see that Stockton brings all of the resources to the veterans,” John Hinker said. “I think it’s really good for them to have those resources available to them because, back in the day, we didn’t have the resources that Stockton’s offering right now to our veterans, which is a great, great thing.”
Those resources include his wife, Jacqueline, who is currently the eastern public affairs/outreach program manager for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She works to get information, resources, services and programs hosted by the VA to veterans through outreach. This includes making connections and collaborations between the different departments of the VA, such as mental health services, caregiver support and more.
During the Stockton fair, Jacqueline Hinker had a meaningful moment with a veteran who was about to get married. She connected him with the right people to prepare him, including finding health insurance that would cover his future wife with no premium.
“His eyes were bright, he started writing that down, and he just could not even believe it,” Jacqueline Hinker said. “He also just found out he will be tax-exempt from property taxes when he purchases his own home. It brightened his day, for sure.”
In addition to the Hinkers, the campus community had the chance to talk to different veteran specific service organizations as well as local mental health services, clinics and hospitals, and Stockton’s on-campus services, such as undergraduate and graduate admissions.
Jacqueline Parrish, a former sergeant major in the Army, was one of the representatives for the Disabled American Veterans of New Jersey. She discussed the multiple services they offer and emphasized how the programs are for all, not just some veterans.The DAV is meant to be utilized through all stages of a veteran’s life, not just when they become disabled.
“We service women and men, homeless or not homeless vets, and we help veterans that are just coming out of service that don’t know about the programs that they can be involved in,” Parrish explained. “Veterans coming home need to know what’s out there for them and what they can get because a lot of them don’t think that the DAV is an organization that they would be affiliated with while they’re young, but the DAV can help walk them through all the necessary things that they need to go through.”
John Beck, a veteran who has worked at Stockton for 26 years, said the event demonstrated how many opportunities for veterans have been made available over the last 10 years.
“It’s good that all these organizations are here, especially the medical care and people from the VA and other government institutions. It’s good for the veterans and the community. Some veterans with PTSD or medical issues may not be capable or feel confident enough to be able to go out to find the information, and they feel alone or abandoned. Functions like this, where they come out and they can take a look around, are easier for them. They have everything in one spot,” Beck said.
Ashley Jones, assistant director of the Office of Military and Veteran Services, is looking forward to expanding the fair and continuing to offer support for the community at large.
“The fairs are to support the vision of not only us but Stockton as a whole through supporting the community that we serve. I hope with the fairs that we run in the future that we not only cover military-affiliated populations but also the populations of students that don’t necessarily fall into that. That’s the goal: helping students, not just veteran students,” Jones said.
The fair also proved to be an invaluable networking opportunity for the different departments present. The vendors were able to exchange information and start fostering connections that could lead to programs expanding or collaborations that better serve veteran and military-affiliated populations.
“I’m very thankful for the community that I’ve garnished who show up for things like this and support Stockton in their vision, as well as the students and community at large who need their services,” Jones said. “They’re all here so they can network and build, and they can do it with Stockton, because Stockton, being the presence that it is for the veteran community and not only veteran students at large, there are lots of opportunities in this room. We’re only going up from here!”
Stockton’s Office of Military and Veteran Services is hosting a week-long celebration of veterans on campus in commemoration of Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11.
For more on the events, see stockton.edu/events/2023/vet-week.html.