It’s an organization that seeks to provide welcoming, boisterous and supportive camaraderie for Belmont’s veteran students, tucked away cozily on the third floor of Fidelity Hall.
“Bruin Vets was the first thing I went to when I started school last year, and I feel like if I hadn’t, I would’ve just been like going to classes, going home, going to classes, going home,” said Jesus A. Chavez, a 9-year Army veteran double majoring in music business and hospitality and tourism management.
“I’d say the biggest struggle that a veteran – which you may or may not hear a lot, is finding your purpose and maintaining that community,” said Ian Jongema, a Marine veteran and general business major.
A community like Bruin Vets is important to members because transitioning out of the military isn't always easy.
“You’re totally on your own and you want to seek that connection,” said 5-year Army veteran, biology major and Bruin Vets President Jesse Patterson. “And like I said, military experiences – I always tell people it’s its own culture, and it would be like moving a whole continent away from your own culture. You want to be with your people, and what you’re familiar with.”
While civilians use Veterans Day to recognize and appreciate veterans, some veterans recognize it as a lonely day.
With the holiday coming up on Saturday, having those connections is especially important.
“It’s a day for us, but it’s also a day for people we’ve lost, so we just like to be together – and it’s kind of hard to share that happiness and that grief with somebody that’s never experienced that life,” Patterson said.
It’s a time where veterans grieve the brothers and sisters they’ve lost; it’s a time to reach out and connect with their community to give and receive support.
“I would say that Veterans Day isn’t hard necessarily for me, but it’s just kind of reminding me more of how we really have to look out for each other,” said Jongema. “And it’s just something that no matter what, civilians will never understand, and that’s what kind of sucks about it too.”
Bruin Vets members have served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.
To connect, veterans and veteran-affiliated students should reach out to the organization or one of its members.
One of the first contacts many veterans have on campus is with the Veteran Success Team, which includes Sara Gibson, Jennifer Kiev and Kim Powell.
Gibson’s son is a Marine veteran, and her father is an Air Force veteran, so helping veterans transition and find success in college is important to her.
“They’ve given a lot to serve in our country, so the least we can do is help them when they come here,” Gibson said.
The Veteran Success Team’s commitment to this community shines through each interaction with Bruin Vets members.
“The snacks and food – that comes out of their own pocket. That doesn’t come from the university, they pay for it themselves,” said Patterson. “They open up the lounge for us every day and make sure we have everything we need. Free paper and ink for the printer and whatnot – they just generally check on us.”
Besides being friendly faces for veteran students, these check-ins range from advising meetings to helping with paperwork for financial aid, which can be complicated when government cooperation is required.
Because Belmont is a Yellow Ribbon Program member, it provides students who have 100% eligibility under the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill with additional financial aid to cover higher education costs that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t cover.
For the 2023-2024 academic year, there are 24 higher education institutions in Tennessee that offer comprehensive yellow ribbon funding.
While some schools only provide yellow ribbon assistance to specific programs or degree types, or cap the amount they provide their veterans, Belmont’s program covers all eligible undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students in all courses of study.
Izzy Shradar, Bruin Vets secretary, is a dependent. She coordinated with the success team to ensure the military benefits that she receives because of her father’s military service were properly filed.
She was initially nervous to join the organization as its secretary officer because she had different experiences than veterans themselves.
But those nerves went away once she met the veterans and was encouraged by Patterson to serve in a leadership role.
“Everybody was very much welcoming, and everybody understood that we’ve all kind of had our diverse experiences and so nobody can expect everybody here to be the same or even have the same knowledge of anything. So, it’s probably been one of the most welcoming groups I’ve been with ever on campus,” Shradar said.
This article was written by Tessa Pendleton