“It’s hard to recognize a student veteran”

Bradie Gray

Veteran Support Services urges veterans to take advantage of support system.

Andrew Bowlds visited Veteran Support Services last semester after serving 6 years in various places like Texas, New Jersey, Missouri and Iraq earning a variety of titles over time like military police officer, criminal investigator and personal security agent.

He came with questions regarding his GI bill and found that Veteran Support Services was much more than an office.

“I came to talk about my GI Bill and I found out that we had an American Legion Post here on campus, so I joined the post to try and connect with some of my veterans on campus so we could get veteran-related issues solved,” he said. “It’s good to communicate with other vets that have been where you’ve been. Once I met with them, I found out about the student worker position at (Veterans Support Services) and I got in with that and then became an officer for The American Legion.”

The GI Bill is a law that was passed in 1944 to provide educational benefits for those who had served in the armed forces in World War II. Said benefits are still available to those who were honorably discharged from the armed forces.

The Veteran Support Services office, located on the second floor of University Center East, helps veterans sort out their financial assistance, but it’s also a place to relax.

It features a lounge with desks, couches, free printing and coffee. Despite all of that, Bowlds said very few veterans visit the office regularly.

“I would say there are maybe 20 people that come up here on the usual, but there are several hundred veterans on campus that just come up here to get their GI Bill things taken care of and that’s it,” Bowlds said.

According to Bowlds, on of the most helpful features of the lounge is the counseling program they are currently setting up.

“If they have a rough day with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a lot of guys just come up here to talk and chill out for a little bit,” Bowlds said.

Veteran Support Services Manager Joel Matherly said that one of the office’s four pillars, along with education, community outreach and graduation, is behavioral health.

“We have noticed that students are returning to campus and they have different needs and different behavioral health issues,” he said.

Matherly is taking action and hopes to get a counselor in the office, but it needs to be a campus-wide effort.

“Between us and our counseling center, we have contacted the Veterans Affairs Department and Event Center to get an actual counselor out here,” Matherly said. “What we’ve found is that there are students with behavioral health issues that won’t necessarily go to the Counseling Center here on campus because they don’t feel anyone understands them.”

Matherly said that hiring a counselor who specializes in veterans and PTSD would help tremendously and he hopes it will happen soon.

Many students, veterans included, are not giving the office much attention, and he credits this to veterans’ desire to keep a low profile.

“I’ll tell you, it’s hard to recognize a student veteran – it really is. They look just like you and I,” Matherly said. “You’ll see ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps)  in their uniforms on Wednesdays; people recognize the basketball players or our athletes because they go to the games and they get that recognition. Student veterans, on the other hand, are very hard to draw out.”

He said most of them just want to go to class and get their degrees, so he is struggling to get them to come out to their events.

“It is very hard in our job and our area to get them to come out to the events that we have around campus, even if (the events) are free,” Matherly said. “Some of that is because they’re not traditional students, so a lot of these student veterans have families, they have kids, so if our event is on a school night, its very hard for them to get out.”

The Veteran Support Services is currently holding a food drive on campus and in the Tri-State to benefit homeless veterans in the community. They will be collecting food and donations for the duration of the month.