Veterans adjust to college, civilian life

Jessica Voorhees

Most students entered their freshman year of college coming from a world where their greatest concerns were who to ask to prom or moving away from home.

For veterans who entered school after years of service in the military, trying to adapt and fit in can be a challenge. 

Portland, Tennessee freshman Chris Parker started school this fall, 30 days after serving active duty in the Army. He was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

Parker said it was challenging to make the transition to the college lifestyle. 

“It’s difficult to go from that and into this role of being a civilian where you’re dealing with people that are younger and not experienced in a professional way of life,” he said. 

Parker said many of these unique issues veterans face on campus go unnoticed. 

“There’s a large cloud around the challenges we face as veterans,” he said. 

Russellville senior Daniel Collins, president of the Student Veterans Association, said the SVA provides support, resources and advocacy for veterans and military-affiliated students. 

“Transitioning veterans from a combat zone to a classroom is something we’d like to be able to help foster,” Collins said. 

Collins said veterans often face several medical issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and the SVA provides connections to medical professionals and counselors to aid with these.

Kent Johnson, military student services assistant, said Military Student Services partnered with the Counseling and Testing Center last semester to provide counseling for veterans.

“We can help them with tangible things, like resources and therapy, but with the SVA they have that peer-to-peer connection,” Johnson said.

Parker said he uses the SVA to connect with other veterans. 

“It gives us that social outlet to communicate and share things we’ve experienced,” he said. “We have that inner need or desire to talk about things and this is a safe place for that.”

A veteran suffering from PTSD who had been stationed in Iraq and Kuwait, who wanted to remain anonymous, became a member of the SVA this year after he experienced two gun-related incidents on campus last semester. 

In one incident, he witnessed an armed man running from police near the Academic Complex and became distressed when he was unable to defend himself. 

“I’m not allowed to carry a firearm on campus,” he said. “I’ve been able to and I’ve responded to such things before in an appropriate manner, but because of the policies and laws, I am not able to respond in an appropriate manner to things like that and it really disturbs me. It makes me lose sleep.” 

He also overheard male students threatening each other with gun violence while studying for finals in the computer lab at Mass Media and Technology Hall. 

“Being presented with that level of aggression, it renders me impotent,” he said.

Madisonville junior Joe Hunter, SVA Vice President, said many veterans do not work well at Mass Media because in order to work on their computers, they must turn their backs to other students, making some of them feel unsafe.

On Nov. 18, the Student Government Association approved Hunter’s proposal to expand the SVA office to create a larger study space for veterans to work in a place they feel safe.

Hunter also hopes to make the campus more veteran-friendly in other ways in the future. Hunter wants to provide more counseling services and change certain policies to make sure veterans can have excused absences for military calls. He also wants noise ordinances on cellphone ringtones that sound like gunshots. 

Collins said in order to enact change the organization needs more money. 

Currently, the organization has about 120 members and $4,000 in funds, but financial constraints remain an issue. Collins said most of the funds will be used to send students to the national SVA conference in January in San Antonio. 

“Besides, what can you really do for $4,000 for 100 people?” he said. “It’s still just change in the bucket.” 

Collins said one of his goals is marketing the organization to students. 

“WKU does not have a system that identifies veterans and puts them in our office,” he said. 

Hunter said the major problem most veterans face is just finding resources. 

“I came here last August and I didn’t have ATP to get oriented to the campus,” he said. “But now it’s changed a lot.” 

Johnson said there are several other offices that work for veterans, such as Veterans Upward Bound in Jones Jaggers Hall, the Office of Veterans Affairs in Potter Hall, Army and Air Force ROTC and Military Student Services. 

Parker said he is thankful for the resources and opportunities to link with other veterans and organizations on campus. 

“I hope that any veteran out there will at least consider the SVA and see what we can offer them,” he said. “There are people out there who will help them succeed.”