Missouri schools welcome veterans
St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — American colleges are seeing a surge in the number of veterans enrolling. By some accounts, the numbers have doubled since the post-9/11 G.I. Bill came into effect.
Missouri Western State University and Northwest Missouri State University have both seen surges. Howard McCauley, dean of enrollment management at Western, said they’ve seen their biggest increase of veterans in the last two to three years. He said they work closely with Fort Leavenworth and other local units to make sure they have all the information regarding the benefits available to them through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These programs not only help the veterans pay for college, but they also assist them in assimilating from combat to the civilian/collegiate life.
Dr. Mark Corson, an associate professor and chairman of natural sciences at Northwest, was deployed multiple times over the last several years, including a 15-month stint in Iraq from which he returned last year. He served nine months as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. He’s familiar with the challenges and has, along with two Northwest students, developed a support group for veterans at Northwest, a group he finds therapeutic.
Statistics, Dr. Corson said, show that veterans who spend more time in combat situations are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even those who didn’t see the same amount of combat but are away from home in an austere situation also face a certain amount of stress that can be difficult to deal with once they’re home. But every veteran is different, Dr. Corson said, and some are very resilient.
Veterans, Dr. Corson said, don’t appreciate the stereotype of being “broken” as they return to civilian life. They all cope differently with PTSD, some of them return with no stress at all. But others need extra support as they trade in their rank and fatigues for a class schedule and a backpack full of textbooks.
“It’s not true that everybody who comes back is broken,” he said. “(Veterans) are pretty sensitive to media portrayals of veterans being broken or dangerous. It’s not true.”
Chris Scroggins, a senior at Northwest, served in the Marines from 2005 to 2009 and was deployed twice to Iraq. The 28-year-old senior comprehensive crisis response major was involved in three roadside bomb attacks during his first tour. The fourth roadside bomb attack came at the end of his second deployment, landed him in the hospital and earned him a Purple Heart. He still suffers from some hearing loss but has put a majority of the PTSD behind him.
Dr. Corson, Mr. Scroggins and student veteran Cory Alexander developed the student veterans organization at Northwest, which has about 20 active members who meet at least once a month. Mr. Scroggins said it was through this group where veterans talk about their experiences, something most don’t want to do, initially, that he was able to pull himself out of his shell.
“It’s difficult for some people,” he said of getting out of the combat mindset that caused him anxiety for his first two years of college.
He now bristles at the thought of his fellow classmates thinking that he is “broken,” which has occurred after they learn he received the Purple Heart. But he relishes in being part of the healing or education process for other veterans and ROTC members who could be deployed after graduation.
“I don’t want people to think it scarred me emotionally for the rest of my life,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot to contribute. I came back. I lived through it. I survived it. I want to be able to talk to people about that and tell them what it’s like.”
If Mr. Scroggins were to remain at Northwest for another few years, he’d likely get the chance to do just that on a larger scale. The Army is nearing another draw-down of around 80,000 troops, many of whom are on the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, Dr. Corson said. Northwest, like many other colleges and universities, offers various veteran benefits, including tuition and fees reductions that these veterans will take advantage of.
“It’s certainly a great opportunity for universities to make a contribution to educating that population,” he said. “Northwest wants to be in on that.”
Northwest fronts a portion of the tuition and fees for veterans who would otherwise have to wait six to eight weeks for their benefits from the VA. The number of inquiries about the various VA benefits have continued to increase each semester, according to Marge Stoner, the veterans coordinator at Northwest.
G.I. Jobs Magazine recently published its list of the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools that provide the services that classify them “military friendly.” Northwest and Missouri Western State University are on that list, which is only about 15 percent of all the schools in the country.
The department of nursing and allied health at Western is hosting a conference designed to educate health care professionals and students about improving care for veterans and military families, beginning at 8 a.m. Monday. The conference, titled “Joining Forces: Partners in Care,” will be held in the Fulkerson Center.