After years of active duty, some former soldiers are confronting the challenges of an entirely different ground: college.
The number of veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which helps returning soldiers pay tuition, is expected to cross the 1,000 mark this fall, president of GW Veterans Tommy Davis said.
In 2008, the number of students at GW under the bill was 350. Last year, that number surged to 950.
“GW Vets has increased its programming to make sure that not only does each veteran or dependent receive as much information about GW as possible, but that the GW community also becomes aware of the large amount of vets and military brats on campus this year,” Garrett Hoppin, the group's outreach coordinator, said.
As the student veteran population grows, GW Veterans plans to expand its presence and form ties within the District, including those with non-military organizations, by incorporating activities ranging from planting trees to participating in races.
For the upcoming school year, Davis created executive board positions specifically for service and outreach.
GW became a participant in the Post 9/11 GI Bill in 2008. A year later, the University embraced the Yellow Ribbon Program, offering substantial financial support to matriculating military veterans who served in active duty for at least a year and a half after Sept. 11, 2001. For private institutions, including GW, funding caps at $18,770.
“We’re trying to focus more on showing the public the effects that veterans can have in community service projects,” Hodge said.
“We want to be able to give back to the University – to contribute our life experiences, our work ethic and our leadership ability, and give that back,” Davis added.
To foster relationships between student veterans and their campus peers, Davis said he is advocating for military affinity housing, an option which he hopes can ease the transition to college for veterans who are eager for a taste of dorm life.
“As a freshman, let’s say in Thurston Hall, everybody’s friends with everybody. Everyone’s door is open. [As] veterans, we never had that experience,” Robert Hodge, a graduate representative for GW Veterans, said. “[GW Vets] helps [veterans] break into the social scene and realize that someone is here for them.”
Expanding volunteer service efforts benefits not only GW and local communities, but the veterans themselves, Davis said. As former military lieutenants and sergeants assimilate into campus life as ordinary students, many face challenges of integration.
“Most [veterans] come as transfer students. They don’t know anybody. That’s how people drop out, and they don’t become stationary,” Davis said. “[It’s difficult] to come back and be a regular person again, especially when you come to a university where you’re surrounded by teenagers and kids in their early 20s. It’s hard to find common ground.”
Davis hopes to solidify relationships between veterans and fellow pupils by increasing student outreach, even spearheading a veterans-focused orientation this September. The forum will feature an organization fair to introduce veterans to on-campus groups as they forge relationships beyond the military sphere.
The University is ranked No. 16 on Military Times EDGE magazine's list of military-friendly universities.
“I don’t think any school can call themselves military friendly without participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program,” Davis said. “I think GW has the capability to lead in terms of their support for veterans.”