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It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a campus veteran friendly. It’s just a matter of leveraging resources that already exist, said Tom Tarantino, deputy policy director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA).
To help student veterans, staff on campuses have to know where to direct them, according to Tarantino, an Iraq veteran and an alumnus of the College of Marin (California). Campus health centers should have relationships with the local Department of Veterans Affairs office. Guidance counselors should know how to direct veterans to vocational rehabilitation. Having access to such services is a veteran benefit.
“The key is building relationships with existing services,” Tarantino said.
Changing infrastructure, culture to help student veterans
Another way to support veterans is to connect them with their peers, whether through student clubs or the adoption of physical location dedicated to veterans. Many campuses already have veterans' centers where the students can receive support and resources while supporting each other.
Helping veterans understand their benefits is also key to ensuring their success, noted Tarantino, adding that the GI Bill can be confusing. He gets a dozen calls each week from people who don’t understand aspects of it.
Colleges that are able to invest in an employee dedicated to helping veterans interpret the GI Bill can help take some stress off veterans.
Finally, colleges need to find ways to leverage the skills that veterans gained while in the military.
“There’s a lot of training and experience that goes away when you take the uniform off,” Tarantino said.
He spoke of a friend who, at 19, ran a 23-bed intensive care unit in the military. When the friend returned home, there was no translation of what he did in the military. He wasn’t even qualified to drive an ambulance. He’s had to repeat much of his training and currently works as a janitor while going to college.
Overall, higher education is doing a good job helping veterans succeed in their academic and career goals, Tarantino said.
One initial concern was that veterans would be treated as any other incoming freshman, rather than as their own cohort, according to Tarantino. Soldier students tend to be older, come with different life experience and be more goal-oriented.
“Getting shot at has an amazing ability to focus your life goals,” Tarantino said.
He said those colleges that do understand the unique, nontraditional aspects of the veteran cohort have been the most successful in serving those students.
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