Willimantic, Conn. – On Nov. 5, a conversation titled “Working with Students Who are Veterans and Utilizing the VETS Center” was held at Eastern Connecticut State University. Staff, faculty and administration were invited to the conversation, which was led by Veterans Coordinator Lawrence Schmitz. The conversation was geared toward faculty, and intended to explain to them the need to accommodate the needs of students who are veterans.
“There are more than 300 veterans and reservists on this campus, and those are just the ones that have self-identified,” said Schmitz, a veteran himself after serving 22 years in the Navy. “Veterans are a protected group. Legally there can be no repercussions for a student if they are activated for duty.” This means financial obligations as well as academic assignments are to be put on hold in accommodation of a member of the military’s service obligations.
Schmitz also encouraged attendees to empathize with vets, and to consider the trauma they may have been through. “What does a ‘disabled’ vet look like?” he asked. “You can’t tell what people have been through just by looking at them,” suggesting that psychological damage is just as disabling as physical damage. “We have students who are veterans with experiences we can’t imagine.”
“Vets face challenges as students that ‘traditional’ students do not,” said Schmitz, suggesting veterans may not receive as much familial or financial support because they are older with more responsibilities. This reality reinforces the need for support systems such as Eastern’s VETS (Veterans Education and Transition Services) Center. “We have one of the largest, best-supported vet centers in the state. That keeps our veterans here,” said Schmitz. “When there is an issue, they know they can come to me.”
In regard to the regimented environments veterans come from, Katherine Wrana, Eastern’s assistant director of financial aid who, has much experience working with student veterans, said, “When a vet comes here, it’s similar to a freshman coming from high school in that they are coming from a totally structured environment. They need support and guidance in navigating college,” she said. “The vet center also gives them some of the camaraderie they’ve lost.”