From Marine to Mountaineer: WVU helps returning veterans

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Enlisting in the military is a tough decision, but returning to normal life after having spent time in the military can be even harder.

At West Virginia University, the WVU Veterans Office helps student veterans transition to normal civilian life.

According to the WVU Veterans Office records, currently more than 800 veterans and military personnel and/or their dependents are enrolled in WVU for education. The University offers student veterans many opportunities and specific programs for veterans enrolled on campus.

One of the most important duties that the veteran’s office carries out is to help student veterans with all aspects of transition. The Interim Veteran Advocate at the WVU Veteran’s office, Jerry McCarthy, handles many responsibilities like acting as the connection between students and various departments at WVU, Veteran Affairs, and government and outside agencies. McCarthy also helps with resolving issues and answering questions that students might often have.

McCarthy responsibilities also include assisting students with the Montgomery G.I. Bill to help fund their education while at school and helping students who are on or off active duty. As the WVU Veterans Office states it, the Veteran’s Advocates office, located in the Financial Aid’s Office in the MountainLair, is a “one-stop-shop for student veterans.”

The process of finding and filling out the right forms could become quite tedious for recently returned student vets. Hom Motlagh, a student veteran who served as a dental technician while serving in the military says that the veteran’s office at WVU was tremendously helpful when he decided to return to school to receive his masters from WVU’s School of Public Health.

“A lot of the stuff is done at the veteran’s office in the downtown campus and they do a great job,” Motlagh said. “I’ve been there, some of the G.I. Bill benefits that I have received for my masters they have helped me tremendously; getting some of those forms out, making sure I get some of my funding that I was qualifying for, so I think they do a lot to help all of the veterans.”

Motlagh says the veteran’s office also helped him with his application to the dental school at WVU, in which he is currently enrolled.

Hom Motlagh, a dental student, studies between classes at Health Sciences.

The veteran advocate and the veteran’s office is also involved in developing, implementing and supervising special programs and veteran organizations on campus. Veterans of WVU is a prominent student organization on campus that caters for student veterans to get together, socialize, represent veterans and contribute to the community.

The organization is very active on campus and has achieved many feats since its inception. Some of their accomplishments include sending care packages to soldiers on active duty in Iraq, fundraising and donating the money to Canines for Combat Vets and sponsoring blood drives along with WVU ROTC. Veterans of WVU also became a student chapter and member of Student Veterans of America, a nationally recognized group for student veterans.

Jonathan Rogers, a student veteran who served in the navy, just got back to WVU and is pursuing a degree in biometrics and computer engineering. Rogers joined the Veterans of WVU organization hoping that it would aid him in relating his experience overseas with others who had similar experiences.

“Veterans of WVU, which is almost like a fraternity now, is a bunch of veterans getting together every two week,” Rogers said. “They do good work, as far as Toys for Tots, things like that and just any assistance that you generally need.”

Another student veteran, Phillip Arthur, who served in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer for over seven and a half months in Afghanistan, says he found the veteran student organizations helpful in adapting to college life.

“The number of veterans club here at West Virginia University definitely helps adapting to civilian side after coming back from deployment,” Arthur said. “We also share and learn how the university deals with veterans.”

Among the various things the Veteran’s Office is involved in, it also is committed to helping recently returned students veterans adjust socially to normal civilian life. Additionally, many veterans face the inevitable post-traumatic stress after having served overseas in war-torn areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. For this, the office offers many specific counselors to students, available to them whenever necessary.

Phil Arthur, an active duty Marine, stands guard at his post in Marjah, Afghanistan.

Similarly, many vets face challenges with various relations, such as with family, loved ones and old friends. Often, they face the inability to relate to normal civilian life without the urgency of the war in their immediate surroundings. Some veterans find it hard to grieve the loss of their military comrades in a civilian setting where regular people find it hard to empathize with them.

Counselors at the WVU Veteran Office assist and provide therapy for veterans at the Carruth Center for Counseling. There are also specific counselors for rehabilitation and parent relations. The Veteran’s Office also provides special academic advisors who work one on one with the students to help build a schedule that accommodates veteran students drills and various programs.

Most veteran students opt to go back to the military and try to apply their degrees towards their jobs in the military. The office again helps them with their respective graduations and later recruitment.

To commemorate student veterans’ service to the country, WVU’s Faculty Senate voted in the spring of 2009 to observe Veteran’s Day as a Day of Concern across campus. This allows student veterans to skip class to partake in special ceremonies and programs held to honor the veterans.

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