Correction appended: An earlier version of this story inaccurately identified Joe Schwarz, a lecturer at the Ford School of Public Policy.
Student veterans and other former members of the armed services highlighted the difficulties student veterans often face when assimilating to a college atmosphere after spending time on active duty at a student-veteran affairs symposium yesterday.
According to Philip Larson, the mediator of the event and the coordinator of the University’s Student Veterans Assistance Program, the goal of the symposium was to help faculty and students understand the everyday struggles of student veterans.
Larson said transitioning from being a member of the armed services to becoming a University student can be a trying experience for students used to military life.
“It’s an alien world,” Larson said.
The keynote speaker at the symposium was Joe Schwarz, a navy veteran and former member of the CIA who did tours in Vietnam, Indonesia and Laos. Schwarz, a Republican from Battle Creek, Mich., is also a former U.S. Congressman who served on the House Armed Services Committee.
Schwarz said the goal of his speech was to shed light on the problems associated with returning veterans and the challenges they face when assimilating into society.
Schwarz told the story of a veteran, who he called “James,” as an example of veterans who have a difficult time assimilating.
He said James probably suffers from a little-known condition called traumatic brain injury. Unlike the more commonly-known psychological disorder post-traumatic stress disorder, TBI changes the chemical and physiological make-up of the brain.
“James is the poster-child for former Army, Marine, Air Force, Navy and National Guard men and women who have PTSD or TBI,” said Schwarz. “We identify TBI as what we think is a signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.”
Schwarz encouraged the audience and specifically the veterans in the room to “never lose sight” of the problems associated with returning veterans, emphasizing that these issues would exist for the rest of their lives.
After Schwarz spoke, a panel of University student veterans and members of Student Veterans of America held a question-and-answer session.
Derek Blumke, co-founder of Student Veterans of America and a University alum, responded to a question about the future of programs for student veterans. He said the University sets the standard for how he’d like to see other universities accommodate student veterans.
Anthony Arnold, a Navy veteran and an LSA senior, said he wishes he would’ve gotten involved in student-veteran support systems earlier.
Arnold said he took 18 credits to try and capitalize on the benefits offered by the Post-9/11 GI bill that offers full tuition to veterans for 36 months after returning from duty.
“One of the reasons I didn’t (get involved) was the workload,” Arnold said.
Now Arnold belongs to SVA and is also a member of both a social and professional fraternity.
Ryan Pavel, a Marine veteran and LSA junior, said he wishes there was a stronger community of student veterans on campus. He added that a lot of returning veterans prefer to keep their student lives and their experiences as veterans separate.
“It really is a matter of reaching out to individual people,” Pavel said.
Two student veterans on the panel shared Pavel’s sentiment about the difficulty of finding a place among student-veteran groups.
Sarah LeMire, an Army veteran and a graduate student in the School of Information, said she has not found her niche as a female veteran, a mother and an older student at the University.
“The biggest problem is finding where you fit,” LeMire said.
Michael Bohl, a Marine veteran and a University medical student, said he would reconsider his lack of participation in student-veteran groups after listening to the testimonials on the symposium panel.
Jeremy Glasstetter, a senior at the University of Michigan-Flint and an Army veteran, said that his experience alongside international soldiers has encouraged him to try to not only create a stronger community of American student veterans, but to also create a collaboration among student veterans around the world.
Glasstetter added that the SVA has intentions to partner with existing student-veteran organizations in other countries.