Veterans Resource Center: The First Step for Transitioning Student Veterans

By Rachel Gobep
Amanda Joerndt

More than 275 student veterans attend Youngstown State University, and to ease the veterans’ transition from military life to college life, the Carl A. Nunziato Veterans Resource Center had Warrior Awareness Training for faculty and staff.

The training seeks to provide its participants with a deeper understanding of the student veteran population at YSU. 

Rick Williams, associate director of veterans affairs, discussed topics such as basic information about the military, veterans in transition, the GI Bill, mental health and on-campus resources for veterans. 

Williams said the resource center aids with the transition veterans have when they begin their journey in college, but each veteran’s transition is different.

“[The resource center] is more for the veterans who left high school, joined the military, was gone anywhere from four to 20 years. And now when they separate from the military, they have this shiny GI Bill they want to use, and they’re coming back to school for maybe the first time in several years,” he said.

These nontraditional veterans may have a spouse, children and bills while facing the same issues traditional students encounter, according to Williams.

“With the military, that adds another layer of complexity on top of it because you’ve got this military culture that you’ve learned, maybe you’ve been to war, maybe you’ve seen some things, maybe you’re dealing with some aftereffects of war,” he said. 

A sophomore engineering major spent 12 years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, including multiple deployments. He said the issues he encounters are not just past issues but always ongoing. 

The engineering major said he never wants to experience a situation like the December 2018 YSU lockdown, again.

A sophomore nursing major and a 5-year U.S. Navy veteran said everything he does is now an assessment and evaluation – from where he sits in a classroom to where doors and windows are located.

Student-veterans who graduate from Youngstown State University receive a YSU-themed challenge coin. Photo by Kamron Meyers/The Jambar

“There’s real boundaries to going to college now. Plus, coming out of the military, those experiences that you bring with you, you almost feel segregated. … [College students] don’t understand maybe what you’ve been through,” he said.

The nursing major said he now has real world expenses being in his 30s. When he first attended college before joining the military, that was not an issue.

Williams said student veterans find a sense of community in the center and have said they couldn’t be in college without it. YSU is one of three campuses in Ohio that has a stand-alone resource center.

He said it can be seen as a “one-stop shop” that provides veterans with services such as waiving application fees and tutoring in math and writing. There’s also a study hall and computer lab in the center.

Williams said he sees 30 to 40 student veterans on a regular basis.

“A lot of veterans find that when they go to class and they’re with traditional students, just the conversations that take place or the discussions in class, even the professors at some point truly don’t understand what being a veteran is all about or what serving in a war zone is like,” he said.

Williams said by coming to the resource center, student veterans will find people who understand them, their challenges and what they have encountered during their military career.

The nursing major said the center is the one place on campus where student veterans can feel a sense of community.

“[It’s] where we can share our story. … It’s the place where we can come and know the people in this building truly understand what we’re going through,” he said.

The resource center currently has two employees: Williams and a secretary. YSU recently authorized the center to employ a coordinator, and it is in the process of interviewing candidates.

Currently, the resource center doesn’t employ a counselor or psychiatrist.

“Any veteran on campus who divulges to me that they’re suffering from depression, PTSD or [another mental health issue], nine times out of 10 they’re already connected to VA resources,” Williams said. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, over 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal year 2018. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that only 50% of veterans who need mental health treatment receive these services.

Although the center does not have the resources to help with mental health issues, Williams said they refer students to the Youngstown VA Outpatient Clinic on Belmont Avenue, the Cleveland VA Medical Center and the Veterans Service Commission of Mahoning County.

“If they’re not willing to do that right now … We’ll get the county veteran service commission involved and they have people there that know the paperwork and will get them into the medical system so that they can be seen by a professional,” he said.

Williams said if depression or stress is related to academics, he will refer veterans to the YSU Student Counseling Center.

Williams has been with the resource center for over seven years and said he has become a mentor for numerous student veterans on campus.

“They’re very comfortable coming in here and sharing their issues with me. … Most of the time it’s education- and academic-related issues,” he said.

Additionally, nearly one-third of the 12 million veterans in the United States aged 21-64 report having a disability, according to employment data for veterans with disabilities on adata.org.

Rick Williams, the associate director of the Carl A. Nunziato Veterans Resource Center, conducted the first Warrior Awareness Training at YSU in February. Photo by Kamron Meyers/The Jambar

This can include what is termed an ACS disability, which is “difficulty with one or more of the following: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care and independent living.” This may or may not have been acquired during military service.

It also may be a service-connected disability, which is “a disease or injury determined to have occurred during military service. The Veterans Administration assigns a disability rating as a percentage from 0% to 100% disabled. It can also be a combination of the two.”

YSU’s Disability Services provides accommodations for student veterans based on their specific needs, according to Gina McGranahan, associate director of Disability Services.

McGranahan said she hopes to begin scheduling appointments in the resource center over the summer to encourage student veterans with disabilities to use Disability Services.

“We aren’t saying they’re weak because they have a disability,” she said. “This is not something they chose. It’s something that [may have occurred] because they enlisted. We’re here to support them.”

McGranahan said people who use Disability Services can choose what accommodations they use and it’s completely confidential.

Sixteen people attended the Feb. 21 training, and Williams said there are nearly 30 signed up for the March training session. The training also included a student veteran panel, where they shared their experiences in the military and on campus.

McGranahan attended the awareness training and said it’s important for faculty and staff to attend future training.

“They need to see and listen to the students … coming from them and what they experience,” she said.

Williams said he was inspired to create the awareness training by Ohio University. It lasts two hours and includes lunch. 

When a faculty or staff member completes the training, they receive a magnet and a lapel pin, which can lead to student veterans being more at ease conversing with them.

“If a student veteran were to walk into an adviser’s office and they see that awareness training magnet, they’ll be like, ‘So this person knows about veterans,’” Williams said.

The resource center obtained a $5,000 grant from Wells Fargo to conduct the Warrior Awareness Training.

*The student-veterans are anonymous in this story to prevent the YSU community from identifying them and asking potentially triggering questions about their time in the military.

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