Veterans make up 3% of UTD, and while administration and the student body alike help with the transition into college, their experience in university may still be unconventional.
Resources like the Veteran’s Center, the Student Counseling Center and the Veteran Relief fund as well as student organizations like Meals for UTD Vets connect veteran Comets with financial aid, mental health help and even food and housing assistance to help smooth the transition into university life. Freshman psychology major Chinedum Akpeh said the routine and predictability of the military is easy in comparison to the uncertainty of college.
“College is harder than war,” Akpeh said. “[In the military] you are given what is going to happen, what to expect, you know everything that is going to happen. At UTD there are unknowns, there are things that you are not used to.”
Though UTD is one of the most diverse universities in Texas, there can still be stigma surrounding students who have served in the military. While military life looks different for every person who serves, Marijke Gray, director of the Military Veteran Center, said that people often assume mental illness or physical ailments accompany service, which is not necessarily true.
“There [is] certainly a stigma. It does vary. I want to say it varies based off of how sheltered a particular student might have been. While I have been in college, since getting out [of] the Army, I have been asked if I have killed someone probably fifty times,” said Dorman.
UTD offers aid to veterans both through the administration and through student organizations. The Military Veterans Center is the prime spot for student veterans who need a welcoming hand. The center offers multiple resources, aid and groups that make meeting other veterans more accessible. Military Veteran’s Center, University Recreation, the Student Counseling Center and the Student Wellness Center are holding an exercise challenge called Mission 22 to represent the branches of the military along with raising awareness of veteran mental issues and suicide. The event will provide mental health resources and free t-shirts.
“We now have the cabinet stocked with snacks, oatmeal, granola bars and such. We will be turning the back area into a quiet place that is going to be blocked off … Health and wellness has Mission 22, I have now taken that from them. We are going to have Mission 22. That is going [to] be one of our legacy programs,” Gray said.
Outside of the events and resources MVC provides, UTD has a variety of organizations just for veterans. The Student Veterans Association, Meals for UTD Vets, the Green Zone, Transfers Orientation and the Military Community Advocates are just a few of the groups available. Beyond support groups and organizations, veterans can also receive financial aid. This includes the Military Veteran Relief Fund, through which qualifying applicants can earn up to $1,500 per semester. Additionally, there are two endowments that that give away $500 scholarships to two students.
“We can help you with your housing, if you become homeless,” Gray said. “We can help you get groceries. There is a meal program, Meals for Heroes, that we can get you. There is a tiny homes program. We can get you help for your family at no cost. Not only do we treat you, we help treat your family.”
The military is not just about being ready for war; there are also those on the medical frontlines who are prepared for the damage that war has on individuals. Army Medical Department recruiter, Grayson Garland, spreads knowledge to students who are interested in army medicine and the benefits of their program.
“This particular setup represents a forward surgical team that would be packaged up and deployed in environments to treat casualties,” Garland said. “We are here to share information about medical scholarships that the Army will pay for to send students to school.”
There are also scholarships for medical students who want to go into the military. Dallas Army Medical recruiter, Trent Larsen, said they aim to make more people aware of the medical opportunities and scholarships the Army medical system has.
“Our Health Profession scholarship is a four-year, 100 percent tuition paid scholarship. The stipend is about $2,700 a month, reimburses books and any equipment [needed] for studies,” Garland said.
Though UTD offers numerous programs and resources through the Veteran’s Center, Akpeh said there are concerns with how well the center is advertised.
“Apparently no one knows about [MVC] even though our school has it,” Akpeh said. “That made it hard to know who the right person to reach out to was. Once I found out about the Veteran’s Center, they helped as much as they could … they did help me connect with people who have been in the military who are currently still serving.”
College registration can be difficult for any student, but after service, veterans can struggle with returning to school after a long period away. Dorman said veterans could use more guidance during registration periods.
“If there was one thing UTD should do it is [priority] registration for veterans, that is so vital. You go to college after four years of no school … I got to UTD and went to do registration, you’re herded like cattle with the rest of the students, but you do not know what [is] going on. I think that would be the first step, help these guys get enrolled and help them understand the process before we start getting into events and outreach,” Dorman said.
Joining the army can bring many sacrifices, but also with it benefits, including financial assistance for education, credentialling assistance, health care plans and the satisfaction of serving your country. When finished with service, veterans should set up with Veterans Affairs in order to manage their benefits and services after their military career.
“Sometimes you had a great [experience], not to say everyone did not have a great experience. If you ask me if I would do it all over again, absolutely,” Gray said.