Most students on Belmont’s campus are used to the blasting for new buildings, but it caused Matt Thompson to experience Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.
Thompson is a Navy, Army, and National Guard veteran who served in Iraq. Last semester, he had to drop a class he was taking in McWhorter because of its proximity to the blasting zone for Belmont’s new cafeteria.
He simply could not handle the blasting, partially because he had no one to go to for help.
Student veterans are one of Belmont’s newest demographics, and the number of veterans enrolling is steadily increasing each year. However, there currently exists no university office center on campus to help these students fight their newest battle; transitioning into life as a student.
“When you’re learning to be a student, that’s a lot different than learning to assemble and disassemble a rifle,” Thompson said.
Thompson is vice-president of Bruin Vets, the only veterans support group on campus. The group is trying to reach out with its current resources, but Thompson says an office would be more effective to connect to student veterans.
“We only know those who show up at the meetings,” he said.
Thompson works regularly with Linda Mullins from the registrar’s office, who agreed a place is needed for the veterans on campus. The office of the registrar deals with all veterans related issues at Belmont.
“They’re older and they’ve experienced more than most,” Mullins said. “Having a center or a space designated for them would be beneficial for them so they can bond and work together.”
Many student veterans are in their thirties, but they attend classes alongside 18-year-olds fresh out of high school. For many student veterans, the lack of peer connection is too much to handle.
“Eighty percent of student veterans don’t complete college their first time through. Developing a peer-support system would create a more resilient student veteran population,” Thompson said.
By far the biggest challenge facing student veterans is how many of them know nothing about the benefits available to help them through college. Thompson said a support office could help student veterans connect with local employers and make them aware of government grants for benefits.
But more than anything, Thompson said he and his fellow veterans just need people they can talk to while they are at school.
“Without representation, we’re just 170 students sitting around campus,” he said.
Thompson regularly communicates with Lipscomb, which has a support office staffed entirely by veterans. Lipscomb has a large veteran population, and Thompson called their veterans program “comprehensive.”
Lacking veterans resource centers seems to be an issue with smaller, private schools. Larger state schools with more resources tend to have more space for veterans offices.
Belmont, Fisk University, and Elon University all have links to veterans resources online, but none have a separate center for veterans specifically. However, the University of Georgia, Auburn University, and the University of South Carolina each have a separate office for veterans.
As for any possible space for a resource center on campus, Mullins said she is trying to be a voice for Thompson and the other veterans. She is currently working on making the issue better known to administration.
“It’s on the agenda, but there’s nothing definite yet.”