By Mark Kobzik
This past August, a $5,000 grant was distributed by the UNH’s Health and Human Services Department (with the help of Long Term Care Partners) to Military and Veteran Services for an orientation that helped assimilate veterans attending UNH. This orientation was structured much like the one for freshmen in that it gives tours for new students. The difference is that it focuses on how veterans and military personnel transition into civilian life.
Both Dennis Byrne and Karen Gilbert have worked at UNH for many years, but just recently started as military support specialists on campus in 2011.
Gilbert said, “Denny and I do programming outreach work to support the student veterans.” While Byrne said,
“We’ll do job fairs, we’ll do employment fairs, we’ll do training the faculty, we’ll do whatever… Our job is to acclimate them from a submarine or combat to civilian life and going to school.”
Both Byrne and Gilbert are military veterans and have helped transition the 270-plus veterans on campus every year. According to Gilbert, the orientation was very successful and had nothing but positive comments from those who attended. This year they expected only 15 people to show, but 32 veterans ended up registering. Gilbert attended a conference in Kentucky where they recommended a Veterans Only Orientation. This year they applied for the grant and were able to pay for food, transportation and other needs.
“It’s critical that they know how to access what is on campus. Whether it’s housing, math lab, writing center, transportation, etc. Most vets have never been here so it’s different from the normal student who has been here several times before they move in,” Gilbert said.
“The transition can be very difficult,” said Byrne. “They’re coming from this regimented system where it is not necessarily friend to friend, but it’s colleague, comrade, you’re protecting each other. It’s a different kind of relationship. Knowing people who have gone through it can be helpful.”
Gilbert and Byrne also stay active throughout the school year helping the veterans and military personnel through any problems with their teachers or payments.
“We intervene when necessary,” Gilbert said. “If they have family issues or money issues. If their G.I money doesn’t come in on time. We try to help.”
There are also veterans who have faced combat and now are dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and need counseling. They have resources such as Health and Human Services and there are independent counseling centers in Manchester and Hooksett that help veterans deal with these issues. Byrne recently did a power point presentation called the Green Zone which addresses the ways to interact with veterans.
Byrne said, “Many, not all, have seen things no one should ever have to see… Being in the military is a different kind of commitment, I mean you are committing everything. Their perspective is different than other students. Their maturity level is higher. It takes getting used to the environment on a college campus where you are free to do as you please.”
In the past few years, the graduation rate among veterans has grown and the amount of veterans who choose UNH has also grown. Byrne and Gilbert both want to create a department, but face certain money and space (for a department) difficulties. There is also difficulty in dealing with the administration, but both Gilbert and Byrne are positive that a department can be created.