Tahlequah Daily Press

December 26, 2012

Veterans form campus student group

By ROB W. ANDERSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Preparing for and going to college can be quite the unexpected adventure.

Military veterans are leaving behind a level of daily routine that cannot be experienced on a high school or college campus. These men and women are looking to prepare for life not only as a student, but as a regular member of the community, as well, after being exposed to often-times harsh living conditions and potentially fatal situations thousands of miles away from family and friends.

Getting ready to start classes at a college or university is the very least of what these combat and non-combat veterans are concerning themselves with as they approach a return to what’s supposed to be a normal life.

Northeastern State University students and U.S. military veterans Angela Walker and Jason Denny served in the Navy and Air Force, respectively, and wish to represent their fellow veterans through forming a local chapter of the national organization known as the Student Veterans of America. The organization was developed in 2008 to provide programs, resources and support to the constantly-changing network of student veteran organizations, according to the SVA’s website.

NSU has nearly 400 veterans enrolled, and some of these men and women need extra support in getting ready to begin or continue life in the classroom, said Walker, who is the NSU SVA Chapter president and a 1992 graduate of Tahlequah High School.

“I’ve actually met several veterans on campus, and that was part of the reason I wanted to get something started,” she said. “There’s a particular veteran who emailed me about having issues about even just driving here. There’s a lot of issues. That’s one of the main issues for people that are coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere. If you have PTSD and you don’t feel safe or if there’s depression or suicidal thoughts or something, I think as a community - as the NSU community, we need to have something in place for these people. I wasn’t in combat. So on one hand Jason can express that better, and I as a non-combat veteran – I’ve been overseas, and I’ve experienced things, too. So I can relate to other people on a different level.”

Walker, who is a visual communications major minoring in criminal justice, performed duties as a Naval data processing technician while serving in Italy while Denny, who is a marketing and business major minoring in cultural studies learning about his Cherokee heritage, served in the Air Force from 2003 to 2009 before coming home to California, where he was a part of a similar program called Troops to College at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.

“I did two tours, and I have a medal for valor in 2004,” he said. “One of the bigger parts of what we do as student veterans is you’ve got to look at not just the student, but the person. It’s a holistic view. Sometimes we come back from combat – myself included I will say – not, uh, the same person that went in. So in that transition, I actively pursued my own counseling and so forth. I knew I needed the help. Not every veteran is like that, and what is nice is other veterans like myself and Angela can sometimes identify when a soldier comes back.”

For example,  a veteran may contact a student organization like the SVA to take a tour of the campus, but also to request someone meet and go with he or she as they visit each building at the school because “he can’t walk by himself on the campus.”

“He might be suffering from some PTSD of some kind. He’s nervous of his surroundings still,” said Denny. “And one of the things that’s important to be a successful person and student, I look at being a healthy person first to make the successful student. That’s what’s important. So together we can work with them. Make them feel more comfortable, and let them know that this is a safe environment. That’s one of the purposes of this, and also work with the other services here on campus, such as the counseling services and even with mentorship with ROTC and so forth. They can let them know that they are in a good and safe environment, too. Those kinds of things make a big difference to us as individuals coming back. It really does.”

The NSU SVA Chapter is in its beginning stages of development, but already has a handful of members in Lucas Coats, who will serve as treasurer, and Abbigail Sain, who will serve as secretary. NSU English lecturer and veteran Tony O’seland will be an advisor to the group, as will NSU Criminal Justice Assistant Professor and veteran Dr. David Madden.

“I’m glad Jason has had so much experience, but there are a lot of veterans on campus like he was talking about that can’t walk alone,” said Walker. “I’ve talked to one of the counselors here, and I’ve talked to some of the people from the VFW, and they’re willing to come and talk about some of the benefits. In the spring semester, I have thought about having a seminar so incoming veterans, and even the ones that are still here that aren’t aware of the program - but have a seminar and have like the VFW, the DAV, counseling services, people from the VA to come [share their information]. Then have break-out sessions so if someone’s interested in learning about the Post-911 GI Bill or counseling whether it’s through the VA, and there’s a couple people here in Tahlequah.”

 

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