Student veterans reflect on aid, resources a MSU through programs
In the summer of 2013, global studies in the arts and humanities sophomore Mj Haynes was deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, where she had what was “easily the greatest experience” as a combat medic in the U.S. Army. Though the positive experiences outweighed the negatives, Haynes said she spent holidays in a bunker, faced hits of indirect fire and served in a prison providing medical aid for detainees.
“I’ve gotten to personally rub cream on the burns of an individual whose suicide vest didn’t go off properly, and actually meeting and coming face to face with that is really tough,” Haynes said.
Now Haynes is double majoring during her first year of university. The army has helped her choose this path. From high school to the military, military to college, the resources available for student veterans helped her through the transition.
“A lot of resources are out there for veterans, and it’s a shame that so many people don’t know about them but there are so many things out there,” Haynes said. “There’s all these communities that are put together for outreach to keep veterans together because I do have to say, making friends once you’re out of the military versus making friends when you’re in is so much more difficult. I’ve had a heck of a time to make any friends since I’ve been here.”
An important organization is the Student Veterans Association, or SVA, which runs through the Student Veterans Resource Center, a space for veterans located in the basement of Student Services. However, SVA president and supply chain management senior Kyle Kissinger said many veterans don’t know it exists on campus.
“Particularly, when you factor in a lot of the things many of the veterans have families, have full-time jobs, they live off campus, so it’s difficult engaging the population of non-traditional students with all of those dynamics,” Kissinger said.
Veteran resource representative Sarah Mellon said there are 434 veterans on campus, but only about 40 are on the SVA’s email list and only about seven to 10 attend the meetings.
“I know one veteran who just happened to be able to come to the meeting,” Kissinger said. “She lives in Grand Rapids, and she has to commute up every single day for classes and she’s married with a family. Thankfully, she was able to come to a meeting, but those are the kinds of veterans that we’re trying to engage here on campus. So to me, even having 40 of them on our email (distribution) is a significant step in the impact.”
Mellon said the SVA is not only for veterans, it’s for the 1,606 military-connected students at MSU as well as students who wish to support student veterans’ missions on campus. Kissinger and the SVA are organizing a Veterans Awareness Day for April 12 to bring more student veterans to the SVA and more support for them from other students.
“(What’s important is) letting the other students on campus, through different programs that we’re trying to accomplish, realize what we are and help the deconstruction of the myths about us,” Kissinger said. “Realizing that we’re not all these war torn people, but we do have stories to share.”
Some of these myths and stereotypes about veterans have directly affected Haynes, something she said she thinks could be reduced by bringing veterans and non-military students together on campus.
“Most recently somebody had something to say ... it was a joke, ‘There’s no such thing as business ethics, it’s an oxymoron just like military intelligence,’” Haynes said. “Mainly when you get out and you’re out of uniform is when people’s honest opinions of service members and veterans comes to light first, and sometimes you don’t give them a chance to cover it because they don’t know that you’re a veteran yet.”
For student veterans, resources to help are expanding. Haynes is currently pending acceptance to a fellowship for student veterans called Mission Continues. Mellon said the Peer Advisors for Veteran Education, PAVE, program got its start this year, pairing new student veterans with ones who know their way and who can help them better adjust.
“It helps even just to make you proud to be a veteran. I have veteran friends who would never admit that they served because it’s that connection of they had friends that died in the service, so when you thank them for theirs, it’s weird, it’s awkward, it’s almost calling attention away from their friends who earned it in the harshest, in the greatest way possible by giving their life,” Haynes said. “I’m proud that I served mainly because it’s one of my favorite things about myself. It’s an important thing about the individual I wanted to be that I’m growing into. I’d say the resources that are provided for veterans as well as what the military provides really are helping me reach that.”