Student veterans face many obstacles

The Veterans Club at SPSCC offers support for both ex-military students and those with family members or friends in active duty.

The club’s advisor, Eric Chase, is a navy veteran who has taught history, sociology, and political science classes at SPSCC for 11 years. Chase helped start the club, because he believed there was a need to help a large portion of students on campus.

According to Chase, “Veteran students might be dealing with many complex issues including culture shock, overwhelming bureaucracy, post traumatic stress disorder, lack of community, and loss of income.” The club serves as a support group to help students deal with these issues in a safe, welcoming environment, he said

For some, the club is the only place on campus where they feel truly accepted. “We’re not accepted here,” said student Garrett Collins, the club’s vice president. Collins served in the Marine Corps for 10 years. He moved to Olympia two years ago and still does not feel fully integrated into the local culture, he said.

According to Collins, there are many reasons why members of the Veterans Club do not feel welcome on campus.

“The biggest thing that we’re having a problem with here on campus is that every time we put up fliers they get ripped down,” said Dora Henson, a student at SPSCC who served in the military for seven and a half years.

With no budget, the club cannot afford to advertise as heavily as some of the other campus clubs do. Tearing down the fliers also makes it harder for struggling students to find out about what support the club offers, said Chase.

According to student Randy Claxton, some students have had their cars vandalized simply because they had visible military stickers. Several club members said they have to put up with verbal abuse from other students who accuse them of being “baby killers.”

Club members have also said that veterans have to deal with teachers who are not understanding or supportive of the rough transition from military to student life. Collins joined the Marine Corps when he was just 17, and only recently began taking classes at SPSCC.

At one point, Collins said he stopped taking classes at SPSCC after an English professor told him someone of his age should be able to write more proficiently than he was.

Henson said she experienced a similar issue with a math professor. According to Henson, there was one equation she could not understand, but whenever she asked the professor for help, the professor told Henson to just go to the math center.

Though it was too late for her to drop the class, she was able to switch professors. She said with the help of that more understanding professor, her grade jumped from a D to a B.

Club members said they do not understand why they are treated the way they are, but many believe it is due to the stereotypes and stigma that come with being associated with the military. They said they believe there is a misconception on campus that the Veterans Club is pro-war. The club tries to inform others that it serves mainly as a support group.

“In our constitution, we’ve stated that the Vets Club is primarily for support of veterans and not to persuade or dissuade people from joining,” said Chase.

“There is a misunderstanding that this is a recruiting club,” said student Joseph Webster, who served for 20 years. “For the most part, in general, soldiers hate war. I did it for 20 years, and I’m done. 20 years, no more.”

The club truly does serve as a support group. According to Collins, the Veterans Club saved his life. “If it weren’t for the club, I honestly think I’d be in a ditch somewhere drunk, or I’d be in jail right now, or in a mental hospital because I would have basically drank myself stupid,” said Collins.

When Collins first moved to Olympia about two years ago, he said he did not know anybody except his girlfriend and student Matt Staples. When Collins’ girlfriend began working night shifts, Collins found himself in a hard spot and started drinking, he said.

According to Collins, a veteran’s worst fear is being alone, and veterans of the Iraqi-Afghan war have a particularly hard time being in a house alone at night. Talking to Staples, also a veteran, helped Collins make it through that rough time, he said. Staples and Chase told Collins how to reach other veterans, and that is how the club started.

Along with emotional support, the Veterans Club also shares invaluable information about what benefits are available for veterans, who is eligible to receive them, and how and when to apply.

Mary Davis, the head of the Veterans Office on campus, does her best to inform veterans of the benefits they are eligible to receive, but it is nice for club members to be able to share such information when Davis is overrun with students and paperwork, said Collins. Davis is eligible for at least three work-study student helpers, but has said that she currently does not have time to train them.

The Veterans Club meets every thursday, noon to 1 p.m. in Building 21, Room 287. All veterans and supporters are welcome to attend the meetings. Chase said the club intends to continue meeting throughout summer quarter.