When he was 24 years old, Benjamin Armstrong, a recent Marine Corp veteran at the time, asked himself why he was in college. Armstrong was a freshman at Texas State University and had already served in the Persian Gulf and participated in the invasion of Baghdad.
“I was just like, ‘Nobody’s done what I’ve done. Why am I here?’” Armstrong said.
He said he found his answer in time by realizing he didn’t have to be in Iraq or Afghanistan to uphold his marine values but could take time off and work hard at school.
Armstrong is now the student veteran coordinator for the newly unveiled Student Veteran Center. He said he hopes the center can become an area of supportive education where veterans can come if they have trouble adjusting to college and find support with everything from GI bills to health care to job searching.
“We do things very quickly in the military,” Armstrong said. “Once you get out you expect things to run at high pace like in the military and you encounter barriers in the real world.”
Armstrong said barriers veterans can face range from not knowing how to communicate with classmates who are not in the military to the slow process of getting the GI bill in. He compared the culture shock with his own experience of running an aircraft in a dangerous zone one day and playing the name game at Texas State the next.
“We go from military training where there’s structure to the college experience where there’s no structure,” Armstrong said.
The Pat Tillman Foundation and Operation College Promise, two organizations that focus on improving education and support for veterans, recently released a survey that found veterans do better in college when they receive support services from institutions similar to the new Student Veteran Center.
The study, composed of a sample of 200 out of 6,400 student veterans at seven different universities, found student veterans earned an average 3.04 GPA and had an increased retention rate when provided with these support services. The study also found that about 71 percent of veterans earned the credits they pursued in an academic year.
Wendy Lang, director of Operation College Promise, said a successful veteran support system relies on the institution, the framework and forming a task force between departments and other bodies at the school.
Lang said some suggestions to a successful program include creating a lounge for veterans to talk to each other and establishing a mentoring program.
“[This addresses] some of the transitional issues that they’re facing,” Lang said. “Suddenly, they think, ‘my school is making an effort to support me.’”
Global policy graduate student Nicholas Hawkins was 23 years old when he came to freshman orientation. Hawkins was an army veteran and said although orientation did address veteran needs, it didn’t provide nearly enough information.
“I sat in orientation with over 100 freshman where there’s a separate time where veterans go,” Hawkins said. “In the office, you automatically have a place to go, with a familiar face, to get all the Austin benefits and figure it all out.”
Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Center opens, offers support for veterans