Power Player: Putting Veterans To Work

Bill Huff knows firsthand the emotional scarring of a vet’s bumpy return home, so for him, helping the University of Georgia launch its Student Veterans Resource Center (SVRC) is personal.

A Vietnam vet himself, Huff recalls his experience returning stateside in 1967. He was flying home to Florida, and Capt. Huff had the window seat next to a young mother and her family. Shortly after belting in and stowing his bag, the captain greeted his adjacent passenger. The woman blankly stared back, offered no greetings or any words of reply, and then turned her back on him for the remaining four-plus hour flight.

This hero’s welcome continued in Tampa at a cocktail party given in honor of returning military personnel. As he walked through the crowd, he heard mutterings of “baby killer” aimed at his fellow men in uniform. The recent My Lai massacre of March 1968 was unfairly being used to tar most every Vietnam-era veteran. It was a painful time for the nation, and for Bill Huff these memories still burn.

“You might not like the war, but there is no reason to treat the warrior with disrespect,” says the semi-retired Huff, a successful entrepreneur with nearly 40 years in business in Columbus following his military service, including as the owner of William Huff Interiors, a full-service firm offering architectural planning and interior design.

Huff, an avid Bulldog and UGA alumni, received a call from Brad Bell, the director of private gifts for the university. Bell said that UGA was trying to develop both a program and a place to make today’s student veterans feel more at home.

“After World War II, there were hundreds of returning veterans on campus, thanks to the G.I. Bill. Our student veterans today are generally older, rarer and often feel a bit out of place, somewhat a fish out of water,” Huff says.

SVRC opened in 2013 and is housed in the Tate Student Center on the UGA campus. The university is providing the facilities rent free, and Huff is raising $100,000 toward build-out and operations to serve an estimated student veteran population of 200, ranging in age from 21 to 64.

“We want to design, build and operate a place where veterans can connect with other veterans, as well as their family members and others with similar experiences,” Huff says. “Our facility over time will also support armed service recruitment efforts, retention, veteran graduation rates and job placement as well as veteran student performance while they are enrolled at UGA.”

Huff has already begun outreach to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, as well as the UGA Student Health Center, with plans and requests to offer a “more integrated, responsive approach to student-veteran healthcare,” he says.

Huff is simultaneously raising another $5 million toward scholarships for these student veterans who don’t always have the G.I. Bill waiting to fund their higher education. UGA is the first campus in the University System of Georgia to offer an SVRC, but if Huff has anything    to say, it will not be the  last.

Retired Air Force Col. Ted Barco is on board as the center’s first director. Thanks in part to Huff’s leadership and almost limitless energy, several major gifts have already been made. If you’d like to help, visit giving.uga.edu or   contact Brad Bell at      bradbell@uga.edu. 

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