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Spotlight on UConn veteran services

By Emily Lewson
On February 17, 2014

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) Information Center estimates that 78 percent of undergraduates attend college or university straight out of high school. This statistic shows that many students have taken an indirect route to higher education of which veterans make up a good proportion.
At UConn, veterans are set up for success; the Veterans Affairs and Military Programs office is a conduit of information, assistance and support. Its staff members help with navigating military benefits, participate on committees throughout campus and help veterans in all areas of campus life.
"The office is a leader for its kind," said Director Kris Perry. "It demonstrates the commitment by the university for this program, which is outstanding."
The office supports approximately 900 veteran students and 300 veteran employees. The average age of students is between 26 and 28. About 50 percent are married and 25 percent have one child or more, leading many to be commuter students who return home to families or other jobs after class. In fact, about half attend UConn branches other than Storrs, which are all commuter schools.
To afford school, 90 percent of veterans are covered under either the Post-9/11 GI Bill, State National Guard Tuition or CT Combat Veteran Waver. Depending on numerous factors including the nature or length of their service, the veterans receive varying levels of benefits. With these benefits, many of them will attend four or more colleges or universities. Although difficult to estimate exactly, the national graduation rate is suggested to be 72 percent, and UConn makes that cut.
"The pressure of the classroom is nothing like combat pressure many of our veterans have experienced," said Perry, attributing veterans' classroom success to their previous experiences.
While many perform at a respectable standard, veterans as a whole vary greatly.
"You can't cookie cutter a veteran," Perry said. "They both might have served but they are different people."
When coming to UConn, the V.A.M.P. office does not distinguish veterans based on the branch they served in. On campus, veterans are a part of every school. They are engineers, pre-med, pre-law, English students or political scientists.
"Everyone who comes into the military is a volunteer. They come from all walks of life and all areas of the country, so it becomes a microcosm of society," said Perry. "They [the military] take what comes in, which works because it takes all kinds to achieve success. The military values the benefits of diversity."
The transition from military to civilian or student life is a process. Those fresh from service address superiors with "Yes, sir" or "No, ma'am" and they revel in the greater freedoms of civilian life.
Although not downplaying the illness whatsoever, Perry recited that only eight percent of returning servicemen and women suffer from PTSD. Therefore, veterans don't need as much psychological counseling as suggested by the media.
"Our student veterans, as a group, are a happy, healthy, well-adjusted, mature and responsible subset of the talented group of students across UConn," said Perry.
Although many don't suffer from the mental illness, the V.A.M.P. office schedules social gatherings to promote a sense of community amongst the veterans. Luncheons provide a time to be together, sharing past stories as well as current experiences.
Another way to boost the sense of togetherness is through the COIN project. Throughout the military, it is typical to receive a coin when joining a new unit. Director Perry's office holds his large collection, just like many other veterans with distinguished service careers. At UConn, veterans receive a coin when they join our educational facility. The front displays an American flag and the quote "Thank You For Your Service" while the back has the UConn emblem and names all five branches of the military. It is just a small way to knit together the veteran community and act a bridge from the military to civilian lifestyle.
As a whole the UConn Veteran's Affairs and Military Program's office creates a comfortable environment for many returning soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Leading the way, this progressive office sets new standards for universities throughout the nation.

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