Local Veterans First: Vietnam veteran turns vision into reality to help fellow veterans further their education
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Dr. Clarence Becknell Sr. has many titles: a former principal, Zulu historian, retired Army National Guard Colonel and an Air Force Vietnam war veteran.
Many might say he has done a lot in his lifetime but is still on a mission.
The 74-year-old recently earned his Doctor of Education from Xavier University. During the process, he was determined to highlight the challenges of veterans adjusting to life after the military.
“I was talking to friends and working with veterans’ groups around the city and talking with young soldiers who were in the military. One of the biggest complaints that they really had was that they didn’t have the support services,” Becknell explained. “So, I geared my dissertation around that, based upon my experiences that I had back in the 70′s when I got my first degree here.”
Dr. Becknell said this program is a “one-stop shop” to make navigating veterans’ college enrollment and registration easier. Veterans can get help with different resources like Veterans Affairs benefits, disability and medical services, and support services to address mental health issues.
“In today’s world, when these veterans are coming back, they are coming back with more severe issues than what we had, especially with PTSD, and unversities have to be able to accommodate these veterans when they come back,” Becknell said. “Instructors need to know ‘What is PTSD? How do you deal with it? How do you deal with these young soldiers coming back home?’”
Dr. Ramona Jean-Perkins, a Xavier Associate professor and the Educational Leadership Program coordinator, sees Becknell’s vision.
“When we say program, I’m looking at elements that pull it together. So, we almost have one-stop shopping,” Jean-Perkins said. “What we’re looking at is all the pieces that veterans need that connect, not just what the Xavier students need to come in, but now there are things, especially when you start off with financial and academic support at the VA. So, we need a person. We need a spot that one person understands both of those elements. So, as a veteran, yeah, these are the things you need to get into Xavier, this is what Xavier requires, and this is how you can use your VA benefits.”
Becknell has teamed up with Jean-Perkins and another veteran, Doctoral Student Reginald Dash, to create the program at Xavier.
“What Dr. Becknell is doing is phenomenal,” Dash said “So, it’s going to start off with three people. Once it starts off with three people, then the system, then the system to the organization, and from that point on, we’re going to keep on trying to grow, keep on trying to develop, keep on trying to give veterans the courage to say ‘Hey look, I can go to this institution. I still can win. I still can be successful.’”
Dash served 17 years in the Army, and like Becknell knows how tough and critical the transition to civilian life can be. Dash wants to help other veterans get the education they want and deserve.
“Some people start off as a Second Lieutenant some people start off as a Sergeant and you work your way up to extreme ranks,” Dash explained. “Once you get back out, you’re starting all over again, and all you have to carry yourself from that is the title of veteran.”
Dr. Becknell does not just want to see his vision become a reality at Xavier.
“Because the dissertation is for everyone to use. Not everyone may want to go to Xavier, they may want ot go to Southern or Grambling or wherever,” Becknell explained. “They need to have this in all these schools and realize that these veterans need support services, and they do need the help, but more importantly it’s something they can give back and give to the soldiers just as well.”
They plan to host an orientation soon. Dr. Jean-Perkins said they also plan to reach out to the more than 100 veterans already attending Xavier.
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