Student-veteran services expand

by Ahnalese Rushmann

After serving five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Aaron Ledebuhr came to the University to begin working on a degree in electrical engineering.

He found himself in a giant pool of students, with seemingly few fellow veterans to be found.

“I didn’t know where to go if I wanted to meet another veteran,” said Ledebuhr, who spent parts of his service time in Japan, Korea and Thailand.

He also said he only met one or two student veterans in his first year at the University.

Locating student-veteran resources on campus is no longer the struggle it was when Ledebuhr first came to the University.

Thanks to recent initiatives by One Stop Student Services, student veterans have more resources to consult for their range of needs.

Mary Koskan, director of One Stop Student Services, spearheaded the effort.

“When the veterans come home, there are the parades and the yellow ribbons (to show support for troops) and the confetti,” Koskan said. “But after the parade is over, the veterans are kind of by themselves.

“We want to go beyond that to continue to help working on veterans’ affairs issues,” she said.

Koskan highlighted some of the strongest initiatives.

Last summer, the One Stop Veterans Office was established.

The University had counselors at the One Stop office that had general knowledge of veterans’ benefits, but they weren’t experts, she said.

Veterans would often be referred to Carin Anderson, the veterans certification coordinator, who handles all certifications for students who are receiving veterans’ educational benefits, Koskan said.

The office is now staffed throughout the day, and representatives can answer students’ questions without the long wait, she said.

Another new initiative was to set up a Veterans Orientation Program, separate from usual first-year University orientations.

Four different orientation times offered student veterans extra help with financial services and employment benefits, Koskan said.

She noted Duane Bauer, higher education veterans program coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs for the central metro region, serves as a key resource for students.

We have to keep building a relationship with the University and the community, said Bauer, who refers veterans to counselors and medical benefits organizations.

A Veterans Advisory Committee was also assembled. According to the One Stop Veterans Connection Web site, the committee’s purpose is to create awareness of the issues faced by veterans by facilitating dialogue between the University, veterans and veterans’ family members.

The committee is comprised of about 20 people, ranging from disability services representatives to faculty members, as well as student veterans, Koskan said.

Ledebuhr is part of the committee and officer of professional development of the Veterans Transition Center, a group created by the nonprofit group, Comfort for Courage.

“Having a support group, someone you can go to with your questions or stories, is pretty important,” he said. “It’s really a community thing. It’s their employers, it’s their professors.”

Tim Fuller, who served four years in the U.S. Air Force, including stints in Korea and Iraq, said when he came to the University last fall, the transfer process went smoothly. The social aspect wasn’t as easy, he said.

“When you first come here, you feel kind of alienated,” he said.

Koskan said One Stop is working on a DVD training program for University faculty and staff to address veterans reintegration issues.

The training program seems like a good idea, Fuller said. He said he’s experienced more difficulty with faculty than students when it comes to understanding student veterans’ backgrounds.

Ledebuhr recalled a professor who, on Veterans Day, made a remark about federal agencies having the day off in observance of the holiday.

“(He said) ‘Here we were stuck in the classroom’ and I thought, ‘How insensitive is that?’ ” Ledebuhr said.

Ledebuhr said the University’s recent efforts indicate positive progress, but

there are always opportunities to strengthen relations between student veterans and the rest of the University community.

“It definitely shows me there’s a genuine interest on behalf of the University and the various departments within the University to help veterans transition back,” he said.

The Veterans Transition Center is working with the University on creating a mentorship program for student veterans in the future, he said.

A mentorship program started by the Veterans Transition Center would benefit from University partnership, he said.

University students and staff will have the opportunity to observe a campus recognition day for student veterans Nov. 12, the Monday following Veterans Day.

Plans for the event are not yet finalized, but the sharing of veterans’ stories, a military flyover and a barbeque are all suggested activities, Koskan said.