Influx of Veterans Expected in Colleges and Universities|Southern Education Desk
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The number of military veterans returning from war zones and enrolling in colleges and universities is on the rise.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says 800,000 people are currently receiving veteran’s education benefits. And those numbers are expected to rise even more now that the Obama administration has announced end dates for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 40,000 troops are slated to pull out of Iraq at the end of this year. And another thirty-three-thousand more will have returned from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
But for many veterans, making the transition from warrior to student requires a period of adjustment.
Keidrick Thomas came under fire in the Iraq war. The former soldier survived, but developed a mental health problem while overseas.
Keidrick Thomas: Soldier and Student
But the veteran is working to get past the condition. Out of the army now for six years, Thomas will join about 125 other former combat soldiers at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in January.
“That’s going to be a very good experience for me. This is my first time going to college. I’m 29 years old, my first time going to college, and I’m very excited about it.”
Thomas will pursue business management degree, and hopes to open a karaoke nightclub after graduation
University of Louisiana at Monroe mental health counselor, John Nelson Pope, has worked with many veterans pursuing degrees, like Thomas.
He says education for former combat soldiers is often difficult.
“If a person has seen combat, or has been in a combat situation or war zone, they may have developed post traumatic stress disorder. And so it’s difficult sometimes to be able to have the concentration or even the confidence to go back to school.”
Experts like Pope say those, like Keidrick Thomas, who have taken time to readjust to civilian life have a better chance of succeeding in school than those who don’t.
“Normal readjustment takes a year, eighteen months to get back into the swing of things; ‘I’m going to go back to school.’ But we’re going to see folks that have had so much stress and trauma that they’re going to come back and they’re not going to be able to process through that. And you’re going to see spikes over the next decade of people that are having difficulty readjusting.”
But the effects of having fought do not necessarily impede education.
Terry Jones teaches history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He says that students who have served in combat often make a successful transition to academia.
“In my experience, it seems like the veterans do as well or better than the non-veterans, as far as grades. I think it’s maturity; if you’ve served in the military – particularly in combat – that you get your life in order maybe faster, the realization of the importance of education. You just grow up, I think, faster”
Former combat soldier Antonio Tims saw death and destruction in Afghanistan.
He completed his tour in 2005 and returned to finish an undergraduate degree; now he’s a military science instructor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He’s also working on an MBA.
He says despite dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the horrors of war and the poverty of Afghanistan strengthened his determination and prepared him to succeed in college.
“The learning curves are so steep that coming back to a structured environment where everything was laid out for you, it was a little bit easier to apply it because when you’re overseas, you never know, you might have one mission where you’re doing something – you may be digging up mines. And you’ve got to read, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to focus and you’ve got to be ready to apply it. And that stress helps you out in the college atmosphere.”
Tims is slated to graduate with a master’s degree in 2013.