Student Veterans

With the biggest military in the world, it’s not surprising that we have a lot of veterans in the United States. We are also a country that values education, so it’s also unsurprising that many of them attend school after serving. In 2009, there were approximately 500,000 student veterans. By 2013, that number had more than doubled and there were over one million veterans furthering their educations around the United States using the GI Bill. This number of student veterans is only expected to increase over the coming years. About 73-80 percent of student veterans are male, and about 21-27 percent are female. This is actually disproportional to the amount of males and females who serve, as only about 10-14 percent of the total number of veterans are female. This number shows that more female are using their earned benefits to further their education than males. Only about 15 percent of student veterans are within the traditional age of college students, most being between the ages of 24-40 before going to college. Also about half of student veterans are married and about half also have children. Student veterans are also more likely to be first generation college students, at around 62 percent.

Transitioning from military life to college life is not an easy thing for most veterans. As you’ll read later from our interviews, almost all had some kind of trouble with the shift. Especially for veteran’s who saw combat, transitioning back to civilian life is difficult. Especially for those veterans who have seen combat, civilian life seems boring by comparison. Also, as many of our interviewees said as well, the military is very structured, while civilian life is not. So in leaving the military, they lose that structure and many are unprepared for that.

On top of that, many colleges and professors do not know how to properly handle these veterans who are, mostly, non-traditional students. Student veteran communities at many schools are small or non-existent. Because student veterans have different backgrounds from the traditional college student, they often feel at odds with the school and the other students. Non-veteran students don’t understand what veteran students have been through and are sometimes unsympathetic and insensitive.

The GI Bill was passed in 1944, officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. It was meant to help veterans get back into civilian life after serving. It looks a little different today than when it started, but it’s changed to better reflect what student veterans need. The edition to the Bill in 2008 enhanced educational benefits to help cover more expenses, provide a living stipend, more money for books and other costs associated with college, and the ability to transfer unused benefits to spouses or children. This Bill is a huge incentive for veterans to further their education after serving their country. The best quote I found about the GI Bill is from Tom Tarantino who works for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

If colleges are not prepared to help transition soldiers from combat you do run the risk of losing an entire generation. The GI Bill isn’t a thank you for your service. What it really is is a readjustment benefit. It is giving them the opportunity to do something that is constructive for their mind and their body, that gives them a mission and allows them to move forward in life. It’s a backstop so you’re not walking right off the plane from combat in to the civilian world. It was designed to be a soft landing.

One such person who took advantage of the GI Bill is an alum of Salem State. When looking in the archives for an interview, our archivist came across an interview with a veteran named James Leary. Bruce Browning conducted the interview in the 2001. James had served in World War II and was a signalman, 3rd class in the United States Navy. James graduated Salem State in 1951. At the time, the veteran population was small, he was one of only 54 student veterans. He endured some hazing when he first started at the school, such as being shunned from the cafeteria. He had a professor mentor, Dr. Edna McGlynn. He got involved with Student Government and the fraternity Kappa Delta Phi, which only became recognized the year he graduated. Even though he had experienced hazing when he entered the school, he didn’t experience any kind of initiation rituals when he entered his fraternity, stating, “We had no initiations, we didn’t buy initiations, you were a member, you qualified, you’re one of us.” He said that he owed a lot to Salem State and that he wouldn’t have gotten very far in life without the education he received here.

For our project, we also interviewed four current Salem State University veteran students. These are the breakdowns of their interviews. One has an audio file and a transcription of that as well.

Jane Doe

Q: What was your rank?

A: Specialist E4

Q: What branch did you serve in?

R: Army National Guard

Q: What position did you have?

A: Transportation: truck, mission base to base. Carried everything from toilet paper to vehicles to ammunition.

Q: What obstacles did you face as your gender?

A: Not many obstacles as a female. She was more like one of the guys. More issues as a minority. Suffered from racism, most of which were underhanded. She was not shocked, toughed through it

Q: Any stories?

A: She was considered too masculine. She wasn’t girlie enough. They tried to police how she acted. They said she wasn’t dainty and swore too much. This made her not date-worthy.

Q: What was it like as your gender in the military?

A: There were a couple of hiccups. She was a tom boy and had a hard time integrating with women.

Q: How did you adjust to SSU?

A: She did not adjust to SSU. Civilian life was very different from military. This was her first time in college.

Q: What resources were available to you?

A: She did not use the resources available to her, even though it was in her best interest to utilize them. She was taught to suck it up and deal with her issues on her own. She wouldn’t have gotten help if it weren’t for her friend. She focuses mainly on therapeutic health

Jane Doe

Q: What was your rank?

A: Private

Q: What branch did you serve in?

A: United States Marine Corps

Q: What position did you have?

A: Legal Administration

Q: What obstacles did you face?

A: She was pushed harder than the men. She had to meet the standards set for women in the Marines.

Q: What was it like as your gender in the military?

A: It was hard since there were so few women. One rotten egg ruined it for the rest of them. She had to constantly prove herself against the higher up who doubted her.

Q: Any stories?

A: Pretty Papa was the name of her group. They were always pristine, orderly and tidy with their hair in a perfect bun.

Q: What was it like as your gender in the military?

A: She was pushed to be both feminine and masculine. She was expected to push herself extremely hard every day.

Q: How did you adjust to SSU?

A: At first extremely well with help of friends. Then mental health worsened (PTSD and Depression) and she became less happy here and wanted to go back into the military.

Q: What resources were available to you?

A: The health and services center was available. At the Vets center, she talked to a couple of people. She didn’t feel like she belonged because she was never deployed. She doesn’t consider herself to be a vet even though she is disabled and has a service dog.

Q: How did Professors deal with non-tradition student?

A: She utilized professors to help.

Q: What was your overall experience like?

A: Overall it hasn’t been great. She will be leaving soon to go to another school. But she would like to see more education on mental health and service dogs.

John Doe [Deployed]

Q: What was your rank?

A: Sergeant

Q: What branch did you serve?

A: United States Marine Corps

Q: What position did you have?

A: Multiple data analyst

Q: What were the obstacles faced as your gender?

A: Told to man up, had to keep image of being tough. Even when he was sick, he had to work.

Q: Any stories?

A: Troops were picked on for lack of manliness. The military was more organized. They cared more about order. This caused him to care more about school. It was very cultural; intersection was hard. The military was authoritative but also relaxed. There was a lot of favoritism that showed. Women were seen as lower than the men. The infantry was very male dominated, but other areas were more relaxed. There is a difference between being a Combat Vet vs a Vet. Combat gets more respect within the veteran community. A lot of ‘manlier’ women who placed an emphasis on masculinity were attacked verbally. More feminine women often slept with higher-ups. Rank structures and promotions happened with favoritism. Female higher-ups often favored females over males. Older officers were more perverted and often pulled rank. Lesbians were more accepted and respected. Good thing about the military was acceptance. Bad thing about the military was division when there needed to be unity. He was in the military for 8 years. Witnessed higher-ups abuse power. Found that different branch women behaved differently. There were higher standards and more demand to act professional. Women were often accused of being bitchy. There were a lot of fights. There were very high divorce rates among deployed soldiers, often because the spouse back home would cheat.

Q: What was it like as your gender in the military?

A: In a better position than the women. It was male-dominated. A lot of responsibility were placed on the men.

Q: How did you adjust to SSU?

A: He just adjusted to SSU. It was a process, but with a strong mind and will he was fine.

Q: What resources were available to you?

A: He used the Vet’s Center. It was his primary contact and guidance.

Q: How did Professors deal with non-tradition student?

A: Only four professor acknowledged his status as a non-traditional student and worked with him. One professor was still active in the military who advocated for him a lot.

Q: What was your overall experience like?

A: The overall experience was tough. The difference from school to military was hard. But adapting wasn’t had.

John Doe (Recording) [Deployed]

Q: What was your rank?

A: Specialist

Q: What branch did you serve in?

A: US Army

Q: What position did you have?

A: Military Police

Q: What were the obstacles faced as your gender?

A: There really were none. There was a good diversity of males and females.

Q: Any stories?

A: There was a lot of structure. Getting up at 6 am. Eating breakfast. Going through his day. The army was very masculine. A lot of females were lesbians, many gave off the persona of being masculine. Women either stuck together or would sleep around. The women who were more feminine were often targets. There was a rumor mill, which had an unclear affect on advancements, but created a hostile environment. The rumor mill probably wasn’t true, but spread who was sleeping with higher ups. There were formal balls with lots of alcohol.

Q: What was it like as your gender in the military?

A: Not difficult at all.

Q: How did you adjust to SSU?

A: Fairly well. This was not his first school. He originally went to a community college. Had issues with the lack of structure and struggled to find a good system to get through the semester.

Q: What resources were available to you?

A: He used the Veteran’s Center. He used the Veteran’s Service Offices for finance. He volunteered there as well.

Q: How did Professors deal with non-tradition student?

A: Most of his interactions with professors have been positive. Some professors did not acknowledge it at all.

Q: What was your overall experience like?

A: Overall good. SSU veteran community is fractured. Many don’t want to get too involved or work with vets. Would like to see more community.

Audio File

Transcription

Q: What was your rank?

A: I was a Specialist in the US Army.

Q: And your position?

A: Military Police.

Q: So, where there any obstacles you faced due to your gender?

A: No. In the Military Police Corps, which I was a part of, there’s actually a pretty good diversity of males and females, so it’s not like the infantry, which are all males, so it’s very mixed.

Q: Do you have any stories about what it was like interacting with your coworkers and colleagues? Was there any gender biases?

A: No, it wasn’t really based on gender. We were pretty great on that front. Yeah, nothing really based on gender. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but at least in my experience, it hasn’t.

Q: So what was a typical day like for you?

A: Well, I would wake up at six o’clock in the morning, then we would go to physical training for the day. Then I would get off, shower, eat breakfast and all that stuff. I would go back to work at nine o’clock, work from 9-5, get off, and that’s it. It’s pretty structured. That’s the one thing about the military, it’s very structured.

Q: So, this is kind of similar, but what was it like, as your gender, there was nothing?

A: Not particularly, no.

Q: So how did you adjust to Salem State?

A: Um, well, actually, this isn’t my first school. I went to community college after I got out of the military. So… um… the reason I mentioned the structure was because that’s, like, the biggest difference between the military and school, is, you know, in the military, you have people telling you where to be and what to do all the time. There’s always some sort of direction or guidance. And then you go into college, even just community college, and nobody’s there to direct you. You have to be able to make the structure for yourself. And I think that this is true for a lot of vets that, for the first maybe semester that you’re out of the military maybe two, for me it was like a semester, you struggle to find that balance. Eventually you adjust, at least for me, it was the whole semester.

Q:  What sources were available to you? Because I know there is the Veteran’s Center. Have you used anything else?

A: In Massachusetts, they have a Veteran’s Service Offices. Every city and town has one, or at least is represented by an office. I actually worked there. So, say, if you’re having financial trouble, like, the only thing that Ted can do is that he does our benefits, our education benefits, he can’t help us with anything else. So if you’re, like, really down, like you’re having really bad financial problems, stuff like that, you go see a Veteran’s Services Officer. And one thing that I did to kind of help me adjust, is that I volunteered for a Veteran’s Services Officer because he was in kind of the same position as me, or you know, he had been. He got out, he went to school, you know. He kind of, like, guided me here and there about how to structure myself, how to make sure I find time to study and do my homework, you know all that good stuff. So that’s what I did, personally, is I sought guidance from someone else, and I know a lot of other student vets don’t do that.

Q: I’ve noticed. The ones I’ve talked to, they’re like ‘yeah I did this all on my own’ and I’m like ‘okay!’

A: Yeah.

Q: How have professors dealt with you as a non-traditional student because you’re a vet?

A: It’s been mostly positive. Some people have acknowledged it, like ‘oh you know, you have extra stuff to bring to the table’ and other professors don’t acknowledge it at all, like it’s not even a thing, you know what I mean? But from the professors that do acknowledge it, very positive.

Q: What’s your overall experience like, from coming to Salem State, from being a vet at Salem State in this community?

A: It’s been good. One thing about Salem State, though, and this also rings true for the community college I went to, is that the veteran’s community is kind of fractured. What I mean by that is a lot of student vets don’t really want to get involved with stuff on campus because they have families or they have jobs and all of these other responsibilities. So they don’t want to stay and develop this community as much.

Q: That seems to be true for a lot of Salem State, they don’t really want communities.

A: Probably just because there are so many people that commute. I live in the dorms. But what I did personally was that I started working for my local Veteran’s Services Officer in Salem. That was my way of, not only earning a little bit of extra money, but also to connect with veterans. And I hang out here too [the Veteran’s Center on campus], so I get to talk to students while I’m here, too.

Q: Would you like to see more community here?

A: I would. I would think that we could do something like, I don’t know, just play flag football or something, when it comes to student vets. Just to get us interacting with each other. I think it would be the positive because people identify most with other student vets, we’ve all been through similar experiences. I don’t identify so much with traditional students. So I think that would be a very positive thing, especially for student vets that need to just get out of their shells.

When asked about life here at Salem State, all of our interviewees struggled at least a little bit. Adjustment is hard and we need to do a better job at making the veterans on campus feel welcome here. As our last interviewee said, we need to build a better community here on campus for the student veterans. Getting student veterans in touch with one another is really beneficial to building a community and that community will help our student veterans thrive better in this new environment that they’re in. Transitioning from military to civilian life is not an easy thing, but having a community of others going through the exact same thing that you are and who understand your struggles could really help a lot of people.

As a veteran coming home to civilian life is hard, but coming home with disabilities is harder. Thankfully there is disability compensation for “service-related disability” as long as the vet was discharged “under other than dishonorable conditions” (“Veterans Disability Compensation”).  Disability compensation has been around since the English colonies in America in 1636, where money was given to people disabled for fighting Native Americans. (“VA History in Brief’).  In 1776 the Continental Congress created the first pension law (VA History in Brief’). After the Civil war The General Pension Act of 1862 provided disabled veterans with payments and benefits for their families, it also included compensation for diseases like tuberculosis that was incurred during the service(VA History in Brief’).   President Hoover signed an executive order in 1930 to establish the Veterans Administration to take care of veterans benefits (‘VA History in Brief’). Throughout the progress of veterans compensation there have been many improvements.

Today a disabled veteran can receive benefits ranging from $133 to over $3,300 per a month; these numbers are dependent on the severity of the disability and the number of dependents that the veteran has (“Veteran Disability Compensation”).   There is also the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) which is for a “surviving spouse, child, or parent, of Service  members who died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, or survivors of Veterans who died from their serviced connected disabilities” (“Benefits Description”). While sometimes the benefits are not enough due to the issues in actually receiving benefits, they do help a veteran adjust to civilian life.

Resources that Salem State has:

The Veteran’s Center

Spiritual Life

Ellison 219

Health and Counseling Services

Ellison 107

Resources Used:

VA Campus Toolkit (mentalhealth.va.gov)

Lighthall, Alison. “Ten Things You Should Know About Today’s Student Veteran.” NEA. N.p.,n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Veterans Returning to College Face Unique Challenges.”Military.com.N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Jacobs, Joanne. “Veterans Go to College But Face Challenges.” Www.usanews.com. N.p., 18

May 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Mulhere, Kaitlin. “Complexity of Student Vets.” Www.insidehighered.com. N.p., 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

“Benefits Description.” U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d). Retrieved from:  http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/

“VA History in Brief.” Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d). Retrieved from: https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/archives/docs/history_in_brief.pdf

“Veteran Disability Compensation.” Military.com. (n.d) Retrieved from: http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/veteran-disability-compensation.html

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