By Tara Puckey
When their military duties are finished, many vets head back to the classroom to face a new set of challenges. At the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many veterans filtered home to find education an entirely new battle. Some had been dropped from their schoolâ€™s roster; administrators citing the institutional absence policy as a reason for the oust. Others stepped into classroom discussions where fellow students vehemently opposed the very war from which they just had returned. Additional challenges faced wounded veterans as campuses struggled to find solutions for their disabilities, both physical and mental. Although the first few years proved to be tough learning curves for many universities and educational institutions, a growing number have created initiatives to help better educate veterans about their benefits, provide special service member orientations and even offer veterans-only classes.
Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dustin Dulier assists an Airman at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. Dulier is an aerospace propulsion instructor and productions superintendent assigned to the 373rd Training Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman
Communication among and to veterans is quickly becoming more effective, with many Veterans Affairs (VA) services jumping to Twitter and Facebook. Some universities have even created their own veteran-focused blogs or multi-media hubs. For example, San Diego State University Veterans Twitter has more than 1,100 followers and more than 200 people like the Facebook page of Student Veterans of Louisiana State University.
Maria A. Ruiz
Helpful Websites: www.studentveterans.org Student Veterans of America www.gibill.va.gov GI Bill information http://iava.org Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America www.roa.org Reserve Officers Association of America www.dantes.doded.mil Defenseâ€™s Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) web site.
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Staff Sgt. Russell Silver, an Army reservist who is now pursuing a master’s degree, realized quickly that several years of military service put him at a disadvantage when it came to his education. “I had to accept that my time in the military almost degraded my academic abilities,” Silver said. “I had poor studying habits and had to discover that staying up for several days on a mission is significantly different than staying up to perform successful academic thought.” In class, Silver struggled to fit with students several years younger, noticing they weren’t familiar with the rigid and often difficult ways of the military. He, like many others
Challenges are not always overcome with the help of the university or peer organizations, but by the love and support of friends and family. at colleges across the country, was passionate about finding a way to establish and belong to a student veteran community. And so student-led organizations began to emerge, striving to provide additional services to fellow veterans by building on the already established common bond. One such organization, Student Veterans of America, a tax-exempt organization run by current and former service members, strives to address veteran needs on campus and advocate on behalf of veterans at state and national levels. SVA
went national in January of 2008, working with only 20 chapters. To date, the organization is composed of 347 chapters across the nation, each led by a veteran dealing with the same challenges as the rest. The SVA Facebook page has more than 1,400 fans. “During my deployment, I was held to incredibly challenging expectations: always busy, always accountable,” Spc. John Newton said. “It sounds ridiculous now, but there was no way to prepare myself for the lack of responsibility I would be faced with when I returned home.” But the lack of responsibility didn’t affect him for long. Newton dove into a challenging course load, marked with honors and awards and was elected president of the local SVA chapter, Veterans@IUPUI, on the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis campus in 2010. Newton and the group worked closely with a newly established office at the university, the Office for Veterans and Military Personnel, to propose a service member-specific orientation course through the school. “The OVMP has and continues to serve as a remarkably influential medium,” said Newton, “[by] voicing the concerns of student veterans to administrators in hopes of easing the transition and making their presence known to any incoming student veterans who may be struggling.” Progress isn’t just taking place on emotional and physical fronts. The link between academics and veterans grew stronger when, in 2009, the first honor society was established for student veterans in twoand four-year institutions of higher education. The SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society, headquartered out of Colorado State University, stands continued on page 20
Twitter Chatter @studentvets Student Veterans of America @DeptVetAffairs U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs @the_USO - Official USO @iava - Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America @TAPS4America Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors @VA_OEF_OIF - VA outreach for OEF/OIF/OND Veterans @GIBill_Info GI Bill info site @vetshelpingvets Swords to Plowshares @GIJobsMagazine GI Jobs Magazine @VeteranAdvocacy Veteran Advocacy Project @PetsforPatriots Connecting veterans and pets @therucksack - IAVA essential “Goodie Bag” @missioncontinue The Mission Continues @BlueStarFamily Blue Star Families
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Federal Law Protects Student Veterans
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for Service, Academics, Leadership, Unity, Tribute and Excellence. Chartered institutions can induct members to different tiers based on GPA, but upward mobility is encouraged. “We’ve seen a lot more interest since the SALUTE induction,” Newton said. “I think it’s important for veterans to realize they can have the same recognition in their education.” Recognition also comes from outside educational institutions, as veterans lean on family and friends for significant support. When Capt. Jason Pfeffer decided to return to school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to pursue his MBA, he knew it would be difficult finding the time to juggle school, work and military obligations. He also knew there would be challenges within the classroom.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen gives a thumbs up to Texas A&M University students after receiving an Aggies football jersey in College Station, Texas, Sept. 30, 2010.
“Sometimes I feel that my classmates don’t always share the same attitude toward leadership that I do,” Pfeffer explained. “They get frustrated easily and don’t always listen if they disagree.”
DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy.
Challenges are not always overcome with the help of the university or peer organizations, but by the love and support of friends and family. Pfeffer knows his support system is always there to help him overcome the hurdles and Newton, whose wife originally suggested he return to school, always stands behind him. “She knew I could do it and excel at it from the beginning,” Newton said. “But don’t tell her I admitted to her being right!”
Federal law and regulations protect active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel who attend post secondary education institutions if they must miss classes because of military orders. But officials expect it to take a while to educate schools on service members’ rights. Commander Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, USN (Ret.), reviewed this law for the Reserve Officers Association, and explained what it means to National Guard and reserve members: “On August 14, 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, Public Law 110-315. Section 487 of that Act accords the postsecondary education student whose education was interrupted by voluntary or involuntary military service the right to readmission to the educational program. These new requirements apply to any educational institution that participates in title IV federal student financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and the Federal Work-Study Program. “This … law applies to the student who is a member of the National Guard or Reserve and who is called to active duty involuntarily or volunteers for an extended period of active duty. The law also applies to the student who starts an educational program (often part-time) while on active duty and who then must interrupt the educational program because of a deployment or a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). The law also applies to a student who interrupts his or her education to enlist in a regular component of the armed forces. Such a person is entitled, as a matter of federal law, to resume the educational program later, either during or after the person’s active duty service. “It should be noted that the subject statute and its implementing regulations are heavily based on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), a federal statute that protects service members’ and veterans’ civilian employment rights. Among other things, under certain conditions, USERRA requires employers to put individuals back to work in their civilian jobs after military service. USERRA also protects service members from discrimination in the workplace based on their military service or affiliation. The new law regarding institutions of higher education affords similar protections with respect to educational programs. “The law does not apply to National Guard service under state authority, and the law does not govern an educational institution’s policies about absences from class to attend inactive duty training (drill weekends).”
Tara Puckey is a freelance writer and military spouse who recently graduated from Indiana University Purdue University - Indianapolis.
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For more information on the law and how it pertains to you, visit www.roa.org