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Veterans Support Center Builds Bridges
Veterans pursuing their education at Indiana University have a stalwart ally on the Bloomington campus. The Veterans Support Center is ready and able to help them transition from military to campus life.
“Our role is to provide any kind of support the student-veteran needs—from filling out admissions and benefit claims forms, to academic advising, to connecting with other student-veterans,” says Margaret Baechtold, director of the center and a 20-year Air Force veteran herself. “Our new space in the Indiana Memorial Union makes us very accessible to any student-veteran seeking assistance.”
The center and its new home were recently transformed by a generous gift from Jeff and Phyllis Cole. The Coles, who serve on IU’s Parents Association Advisory Board, wanted to make a positive, specific impact on campus. While visiting their daughter, Arielle, a junior in the Kelley School of Business, they discovered the Veterans Support Center and were inspired by its mission.
Their gift, combined with a smaller, anonymous gift and a grant from the Parents Fund, helped furnish the center. It will also provide support for programs and resources in the future, such as veterans’ recognition events, visiting speakers, and a veterans’ stories project.
“It’s our way of letting them know they are not forgotten.”
Phyllis, who was a military brat in her younger years, has always had special empathy for young people in the armed forces, as does Jeff.
“Giving to the center comes from our belief that these are truly remarkable young men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the freedom we enjoy,” says Jeff. “It’s our way of letting them know they’re not forgotten.”
A Career Veteran Comes Home
Bloomington native Dennis Sego joined the Navy in 1980 after graduating from high school. His tour of duty has brought him full circle—back to Bloomington, with an IU degree on the horizon.
“I spent 24 years traveling around the world as a hospital corpsman stationed with the Marines. The Marine Corps uses Navy corpsmen as their medical support wherever they go,” explains Dennis, who has served in both Gulf Wars.
Dennis will graduate in December with a BS in safety science from the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. He often turned to the Veterans Support Center with questions for guidance about the classes he needed to take.
“I had a lot of credits that transferred from the Navy, so sometimes I was able to have a class waived in order to avoid wasting time and money,” he says. “I go to the Veterans Support Center when I have a question about a class—they’re great guidance counselors.”
Married Student-Veterans Face Unique Challenges
Jay and Desiree McCool met and fell in love while stationed on an Army base in Heidelberg, Germany. Once their tours were up, the couple deployed to the IU Bloomington campus in pursuit of their degrees.
For Jay, a sophomore majoring in recreational sports management, returning to college presented a number of challenges not faced by the traditional undergraduate.
“Coming back to school after being in the Army for almost 10 years was a huge adjustment. Plus, there is a significant age difference between me and the average college student. I’m about to turn 30,” he says. “The Veterans Support Center helped me with my initial enrollment at IU, kept me aware of my veteran’s benefits, and they have always answered any questions that I’ve had.”
“They are also allowing me to have a work-study position at their office,” adds Desiree, a junior majoring in art history. “From that unique vantage point, it’s super easy to stay informed about veterans’ educational benefits.”
“A Life I Had Never Known”
Jamie Hartman has military service in his blood. Born at Fort Benning, Georgia, and a military brat until junior high school, Jamie spent his first two years in the Army as a cadet at West Point.
Today, Jamie is an ROTC cadet at IU and in the homestretch toward receiving his BA in history this December. However, the journey wasn’t always easy.
“The biggest challenge of coming to IU was going through a complete lifestyle change. On active duty, every aspect of your life is dictated by the military. Here, I had to completely readjust to a life I had never known because I joined the military out of high school,” he says. “I am actually relieved to be here now. I’m 28, and I have a lot of life experience and discipline. I can differentiate between the times when I need to buckle down and when I can relax. I have my priorities straight, and I know what I want out of life because of the military, which makes this experience that much more enjoyable.”
The Veterans Support Center has helped Jamie in myriad ways—from navigating bureaucracy, to making sure he got the full range of benefits he was entitled to, to networking with other student-veterans.
“The center has connected me to a small community of like-minded individuals who help me maintain the sense of esprit de corps that one feels as a member of the military.”
IUPUI Looks After Its Veterans, Too
IUPUI’s Office for Veterans and Military Personnel assists more than 1,000 student-veterans. Like its counterpart at IU Bloomington, the office ensures that student-veterans receive their benefits, and it acts as an advocate and guide for students transitioning from military to student life.
In the fall 2010 semester, the IUPUI office kicked off several new initiatives, which include veteran awareness training for faculty and staff, special orientation services, transportation for health and rehabilitation services, special academic advising, and new Veterans Week activities and ceremonies.
Want more information on the Parents Fund? Contact Dave Spencer at 812-855-4569. Learn more about the IU Bloomington Veterans Support Center at http://veterans.indiana.edu, and the IUPUI Veterans Support Center at http://veterans.iupui.edu.