• Lillie Burke

Bruin Vets eases student veterans’ transition back to civilian life

They go to classes just like everyone else. They do their homework. They’re here to learn as much as they can to be successful. They’re students, but they are also veterans.

In 2008 in response to a growing demand to give back to the troops, President George W. Bush signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill into law, giving student veterans more benefits as they pursued higher education.

As a result, Belmont University’s student veteran population has grown and is still growing. With 200 student veterans, Belmont has risen to the occasion to meet the needs of these students both financially and emotionally.

Financially speaking, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is great for veterans attending a public university because it covers the majority of tuition. However, the bill only covers about half of the costs of a private university like Belmont.

As a participant at the highest level of the Yellow Ribbon Program, a program where schools can choose how much to give financially to student veterans, Belmont has chosen to cover the costs the GI Bill doesn’t.

“I like the fact that Belmont has really stepped up,” said Belmont Veteran Affairs Counselor Linda Mullins. “Without the Yellow Ribbon Program, these veteran students would always have a debt. Belmont has participated to where they never have a debt.”

In August, Belmont was awarded a $95,000 Tennessee Veteran Reconnect Grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. A product of Belmont’s determination to support its student veterans, the grant was heavily pursued by Dr. Mimi Barnard, the associate provost for interdisciplinary studies and global education and now the grant’s project director.

After the finances are covered, the other half of the battle begins.

Student veterans have seen a lot in their lives. They may only be a few years older than the majority of students on campus, but the life experiences they’ve had can often make the gap between students and student veterans feel wider.

Transitioning from a soldier to a student leaves many student veterans at a loss.

“For me personally, I didn’t know how to communicate with a civilian. It’s almost like going to a new country and having to understand the culture,” said Jonathan League, Bruin Vets president.

League, a business student, was approached by Mullins two years ago to rejuvenate the slowly fading student veteran group.

Inspired by his own struggles with transitioning into college, League reached out individually to the student veterans on campus and encouraged them to join Bruin Vets and asked about their biggest needs.

Now a thriving community and place of refuge, Bruin Vets gives student veterans the ability to talk about their time in the service and react to transitioning back to civilian life. While the group gives veterans community and camaraderie with casual socials and monthly meetings, they are also heavily focused on outreach – an area of understated importance to those who have spent the last few years of their lives doing nothing but giving back.

While Bruin Vets has grown to include about 40 active participants, it is still relatively small compared to the 200 student veterans on campus.

A common suggestion from the veterans to increase participation is the addition of a student veterans resource center where veterans can hang out in their free time even if they can’t attend the monthly meetings. Often times veterans come in married and have families or other commitments that leave time sparse.

“If I had time, I would love to participate in Bruins Vets. I have such a bad schedule because of work, my son and school. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for everything,” said student veteran Ahmad Salim.

A place of their own might just be the next step in supporting Belmont’s growing veteran community.

“One of my messages as student veteran president is to leave Belmont better than I got it. Part of that is helping our veterans, because our veterans are very intelligent, driven leaders,” said League.

This article was written by Haley Buske.

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