Hundreds of students from more than 70 universities convened at Georgetown starting Friday to discuss the issues faced by military veterans studying at colleges across the country.
The students were united by Student Veterans of America, an umbrella group for campus veteran organizations, which included the host, the Georgetown University Student Veterans of America.
“This weekend, we’ve been talking about the transition for veterans from our service to education and also from active duty to employment,” said Erik Brine (GRD’ 11), president of the GUSVA.
A number of prominent figures turned out to the event.
University President John J. DeGioia attended the opening ceremony on Friday night and pledged his support for the organization’s goals. The university, he said, would do everything it could to welcome veterans to the Hilltop.
“You can be sure that all of us here at Georgetown will be working to ensure that every veteran can realize his or her educational dreams,” he said.
The issues faced by veterans in higher education are a relatively new concern for university administrators. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a new law increasing educational benefits to veterans who have served since 9/11, the visibility of student veterans has increased substantially in the past few years.
The SVA was founded in 2008, just three years ago. Now though, it counts more than 300 chapters at universities across the country and approves five new ones a week, Michael Dakduk, SVA vice president, said in a speech.
Georgetown’s own chapter is young as well.
“It’s hard to imagine that just 10 months ago, the Georgetown University chapter was four of us sitting around a table in the library, complaining,” Brine said in a speech Friday. Now, he said, the organization has more than 100 members.
That growth, and the chapter’s management of the national conference, earned it the SVA chairman’s award for best chapter on Saturday night.
But the group still has big goals, Brine said. It hopes to push the university to hire a full-time employee to manage relations with the Department of Veterans Affairs and student veterans and to invest more resources in the Yellow Ribbon program, which allows private schools to split the cost of scholarships for veterans with the VA.
Brine is optimistic about the future.
“The university is working hard on these things for us,” he said. “The provost is very supportive.”
Justin M. Smith, a veterans’ affairs coordinator for the University of South Dakota, and Eric Gage, president of the University of South Dakota Veterans Club, attended to gather suggestions on how their university should spend a new $1.5 million federal grant for assistance for veterans.
Gage said that veterans at USD sometimes struggled with everything from the difficulty of cooperation between the bureaucracies of the university and the Department of Veterans Affairs to the “age and maturity gap” between them and the rest of the students.
“I’m not saying we have more problems,” he said, “We just have different ones.”
Chris Galvan, of the University of Central Florida, had a simpler reason.
“The student veterans at UCF are reluctant to participate,” he said. “We’re here to pick some brains on how to fix that.”
Eric Shinseki, the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a veteran himself, gave a brief coda to the weekend when he spoke at Saturday’s awards banquet.
“You are America’s future,” he said to the veterans in attendance. “Graduate, make us proud, and continue to serve this country of ours.”