Student-veterans reflect on adjusting to campus life
‘Many of us are still over there even when we’re home,’ says vice president of Student Veterans Asso
Published: Monday, November 7, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 03:11
When student-veterans return to campus, a life of war becomes a life of academics. That transition, according to vets at the university, is challenging to make.
Many more veterans may soon face this adjustment, after President Barack Obama's Oct. 21 announcement that troops will be pulled from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
John Hague, president of the student group Student Veterans Association, spent four years in the Marines. The association attempts to ease the transition from war to campus-life for vets at the university.
"We're not doing drill or [physical training]," Hague said. "We're just looking to hang out with like-minded people."
William Terry, the association's vice president of recruitment and activities, was told he was getting deployed overseas just after his 19th birthday. Terry is originally from New York City, and was in one of the first units to leave after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Terry said while deployed, vets live in close quarters with 30 others, and are then surrounded by nearly 22,000 strangers when they return to campus. They're accustomed to being on their toes and constantly aware of their surroundings, which can bring some vets to a sensory overload when attempting to begin or continue college life, he said.
"You go over to a specific location, you really can't leave to go anywhere, and you sit with the same people, in the same conditions, in the same environment for months at a time," Terry said.
He received an honorable medical discharge after five years of service in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait in the Air Force's security forces and the Marines' counterintelligence.
After returning, Terry became depressed and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He lost many relationships with friends and family at home while coping with the disorder.
"Many of us are still over there even when we're home," Terry said.
At the university, Terry found himself intrigued by the assocation. He wants to help other veterans like himself recover, so he is pursuing a degree in Health and Behavioral Science.
Nicole Boyd-Douglas, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1991 to 2004 and is now a psychologist at the university's counseling center, said reintegration into society can affect soldiers in many ways.
"You never know how your particular soldier is going to be impacted by their experience," Boyd-Douglas said.
Boyd-Douglas has a husband and family members who are veterans as well, and she is a member of the Student Veterans Group Advisory Committee on campus. The committee is composed of faculty and staff and began last spring in order to reach out to the Student Veterans Association and help better accommodate student-veterans.
Hague said veterans struggle financially as well. Currently, the assocation is pushing for all veterans to be given in-state tuition.
Janice Frye, the veterans' representative in the university's registrar office, explained that the policy is currently under evaluation in hopes of waiving the one-year of residence requirement for veterans to receive in-state tuition. However, the policy has not yet been fully approved.
Hague, Terry and Boyd-Douglas all stressed the elimination of stigmas and stereotypes attached to veterans. Whether in regards to political views or personalities, they said making assumptions about who they are as people would help make the campus more veteran-friendly.
"That kind of makes it an uphill battle," Boyd-Douglas said. "Given the experience they have, they have a lot of unique knowledge and incredible life experience, which not only enriches them, but also those around them."