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Veterans are flocking to college as wars wind down

By Kevin Freking

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 5:50 p.m. MDT

The school offers a class just for veterans called "strategies for veteran success." It's designed to boost their confidence and allows them to meet other veterans. The university holds a job fair for all students, but opens it up a day early for veterans on campus. It also allows students to defer many expenses, such as their books and meal plan, because of the time it takes to get VA payments processed.

Officials at Florida State and Toledo say they hope other students will learn from the veterans.

"They bring life experiences, they bring leadership skills, they bring discipline, they bring a maturity to the campus," said Reinhart Lerch, communications director for Florida State's student veterans center, which opened in 2011.

Toledo also opened its veterans' center in 2011. It's basically a one-stop clearinghouse for veterans or their dependents. At Toledo, they have a go-to person in military liaison Haraz Ghanbari, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve.

When Mick Grantham, 43, enrolled at Toledo after back and neck problems forced him out of the Army, he plowed through his savings waiting for his disability benefits to kick in. Ghanbari arranged for the local American Legion to provide Grantham with a $500 grant. He pointed Grantham to a job opening with the university's grounds crew. He also nominated Grantham to be honored as the hero of the game at a recent Toledo football game.

Grantham is an example of the age and cultural divide that some student veterans face. He strongly believes his time in Afghanistan served an important purpose, and it has bothered him to hear some of the younger students criticize the war during his government studies class.

"I told them, 'You know, I lost nine friends. I've lost two since I've been home. Those guys didn't complain. We did our job. You can't tell me there's no reason for us to be there.'"

The VA is working with Student Veterans of America to study how well veterans fare upon returning to college. To date, there is little data on the issue.

One study, conducted in 2009, just before the Post 9/11 GI Bill kicked in, found that veterans entering college in the 2003-04 school year were more likely to have left school without getting their degree or certificate. But the difference was narrow — 39.5 percent for veterans versus 35 percent for nonveterans.

Veterans at Toledo said the transition always involves some adjustment.

John McCarter, 33, a former staff sergeant in the Army who left with a medical discharge after serving 13 years, said that memory loss is a problem. He has a traumatic brain injury and wears a hearing aid as a result of a roadside bomb that exploded under a vehicle he was riding in.

"I usually have to write things down. If I don't write them down, I'm probably not going to remember it," said McCarter, who hopes to become a sports journalist.

While there are adjustments they've had to make, many veterans also believe their military service gives them an edge in the classroom.

"I work 10 times harder than what I did in high school," said Fisher, who wants to get into the medical profession, perhaps as a pediatric nurse. "The Army gave me a sense of self-respect and confidence, and they really show you hard work does pay off."

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