By: Michael Dombrowski | Edited By: Christine Lai
As a Marine, OEF veteran, and current student, I was faced with three options when I left the military. I can get a job, go to college, or do both at the same time. Essentially, I, and many other veterans, must pick up where we left off before we joined the military. Civilian college life can be daunting at first for what we have known for the past 4-12 years is military life. Deciding to finish school and step into the shoes of a college student is like being a foreigner in your own country.
The battle does not end for a vet once he or she starts going to school. In many ways, it has just begun. In order to once again find our place in the civilian world, we have to overcome the differences in the military lifestyle and a feeling of isolation. Many veterans have a unique need for counseling that is different from their fellow civilian students. The internal struggles are sometimes overwhelming, which may lead some to self-medicate with alcohol or controlled substances, if other means of help are not readily available.
Ways Colleges Can Help Veterans
College offers a unique opportunity to veterans by giving us an environment to redefine ourselves and to work towards an easily identifiable goal. In short, college gives a veteran what he or she needs the most: a mission.
- Veteran’s Office: A veteran’s office sets aside a space for veterans to congregate. A school can not only consolidate its resources for its service members, but also create a military community that veterans feel familiar and comfortable with. Veterans can speak freely with others and find support during the critical time of adjustment.
- Career Planner: Along with this meeting place, a career planner can also help former military members with the disorienting prospect of finding a path for themselves.
- VA Representative: Finally, a Department of Veteran’s Affairs representative can give veterans direct access to much-needed aid, especially for those with mental and physical wounds. Oftentimes, the very system that is designed to help veterans can be one of the most frustrating and laborious processes when navigating without guidance.
- Veteran Student Organization: Veteran organizations are veterans’ own answer to the problem of finding help and understanding after their military careers. Because of limited funding, colleges should work with these organizations that already have a rapport with the veteran student body.
Colleges can greatly increase the amount of inclusion and acceptance for veterans from the campus community and bolster the veterans’ desire to contribute in whatever way they can. The links between all aspects of a campus community must be forged in order to assure equal opportunities for success in the academic and personal struggles for all students.
What Veterans Bring to the College Campus
Veterans have the potential to add to a campus community in many ways, but they can only benefit the community that actively includes them. Veterans add to the classroom environment input that is derived from their experience and maturity.From a financial standpoint, veterans also inject guaranteed money to the college with monetary assistance from the GI Bill. Both veteran and civilian students would benefit from increased interaction between them.
The judgments made about the veteran community must start with a greater understanding of their struggles. They are not simply a group of older students that carry a government check for education in their wallets. They are their own class in society with memories and pain that is matched only by their will to continue on and better themselves. For the many that choose to do so by furthering their education, most would ask only for acceptance, assistance, and inclusion.
About Michael Dombrowski
Michael is a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps and a current student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Michael deployed to southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2009.