Ariel J. Luna has been serving veterans in higher education and government for more than 18 years. Luna is originally from Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Starrett City section of East New York. AJ's mother is from the Dominican Republic and his father is from Argentina. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at the start of 2000 and he was stationed as a communication soldier in Fort Gordon, Georgia, South Korea, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After he left the Army in 2002, he joined the NY National Guard where he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-2005. While serving in the National Guard, Luna was pursuing his bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College. He completed his master’s in administrative science with a concentration in Non-Profit Organizational Development, Human Resource Administration, and Global Leadership from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012.
In 2007, Luna received the opportunity to run a program at the NYC College of Technology. Although he was employed for 15 hours a week, he was able to operate the office full-time with the help of his assistant and some motivated VA work studies. His resourcefulness allowed veterans attending school there to receive full-time service. In a period of two years, the Veteran Services Office
assisted over 500 veterans with educational benefits, disability claims, job referrals, G.I. Bill workshops, and student veteran events. One of Luna’s philosophies in servicing veterans is making sure useful information is passed on to veterans via e-mail newsletters, VA publications, and referrals to other veteran services. This allows student veterans to become more engaged in their
college experience and it creates a camaraderie that allows them to support each other.
In 2009, Luna came on as the new director of veteran services for Fairleigh Dickinson University. The Office of Veteran Services was created and students on campus and online now had access to a one-stop shop for a majority of their needs. Students had access to one of the most knowledgeable individuals about the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Luna was involved with the group Student Veterans of America back in 2008. This was one of the key groups that helped lobby to pass the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. Luna was instrumental in supporting over 900 veterans in obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees during his five-and-a-half-year tenure.
After a successful tenure at FDU, Luna was recently appointed by Bergen County’s new County Executive, James Tedesco III, as the new Director of Veteran Services for Bergen County. Luna plans to bring his experience and expertise to serve the 30,000 resident veterans of Bergen County. Luna focused his efforts on housing, employment opportunities, and good service referral
In August 2016, the County of Bergen became the 28th Community in the U.S. to have effectively ended veteran homelessness. Luna has also been able to build relationships with employers to secure 154 employment positions for veterans since 2015. The Division of Veteran Services has also assisted over 350 veterans in obtaining safe, permanent, and affordable housing in
Bergen County, New Jersey. Luna also instituted the VA Work Study program at the County of Bergen which allowed the County to hire part-time student veterans as interns to augment the Division of Veteran Services. This came at no cost to the Bergen County taxpayers. One key position that was created was the Homeless Veteran Liaison position. This position allowed them to have a veteran work at their shelter to identify veterans and develop plans to get those veterans into permanent housing. This is one of many new initiatives that Luna introduced while serving as the Director of Veteran Services. Luna has received numerous accolades and has been featured on several media outlets recognizing his work and efforts. In 2017, the New Jersey American Legion recognized and awarded him with the “Homeless Veteran’s Outreach Award for the State of New Jersey”. In July 2018, he was selected by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs as the “VA Veteran of the Day” which is a national recognition. He was honored at the 1st Annual Brenner Foundation Veteran Services Gala at the Venetian, in Garfield, New Jersey on October 18th, 2018. In 2019, he was featured on the Built for Zero Community Solutions national community model campaign for the work the county has done with homeless veterans. He was also featured in the Rocket Mortgage Community Solutions commercial in 2021 as a leader in the veteran services community. Luna also served as the Deputy Director for the Office of Government and Community Relations for the NJ Department of Transportation from 2021-2022. He is also one of the founders of the NJ SOS Veteran Stakeholders Group. A Northern NJ non-profit that hosts quarterly county meetings throughout the Northern part of the State that gives organizations an opportunity to network and refer veterans to various services in the community. He assists in putting together Suicide Awareness Seminars to educate the community about resources available to veterans in crisis. There have been successful events in Elmwood Park, Newark, and Trenton. He is married to his wife, Shevonne Murray-Luna, and has 2 beautiful daughters, Mariah Angel Luna, 10, and AJ Luna, 7.
What inspires you about the impact of Latino Changemakers that you see all over the US?
Successful and influential Latino changemakers can motivate and inspire younger generations of Latinos to pursue their dreams and create positive change. Seeing possibility models creates ripple effects.
Anything is possible with hard work and dedication. We have grit, compassion, and self-determination which are the ingredients for success in everything we pursue.