Students recount their service through support
Nov. 11 is Veterans Day — a day that honors all American veterans. There are approximately 16.1 million veterans in the U.S. who served in at least one war.
According to mentalhealth. va.gov, more than one million of those are student veterans who are currently using their GI benefits to pursue a post-secondary education.
“I came to Lamar after high school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or study,” Ramie Dalton, Lamar Veterans Organization president and Port Arthur graduate student, said. “I wasn’t mature enough for school — I ended up withdrawing after three semesters and joined. I served in the Army for seven years and two months. I felt like I needed to mature. I needed to get out of this area because all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends.
“I knew I needed to be on my own for a little bit, which is a part of maturing. I needed to be more financially responsible because, at the time, my parents were paying for my school and I didn’t really have any financial responsibilities of my own.”
Dalton said there’s a misconception that people join the military because they don’t have any other option, but the reality is that people are looking for a place of discipline and belonging.
Nicolas DeVillier, LVO vice president and Nederland junior, said he wanted to serve ever since he was a kid.
“Both of my grandfathers served in the military and so did my cousin,” he said. “I also liked the idea of getting college paid for, so, two months after I graduated high school, I turned 18 — and four days later I shipped out.”
Dalton and DeVillier said that while they learned a lot from the Army, it was hard for them to transition back to civilian life when they came home.
“Unless you go to a military school, where everything is the same, (the transition) is like if I handed you the keys to a brand-new Ferrari, told you to take off, and you don’t know how to drive a stick shift,” DeVillier said. “It’s overwhelming. Honestly, my first year back was horrible. I had a 1.4 GPA overall by the end of the first year and I was very sad about that. But now that I started working on campus and educating myself more with the resources that are available, I’ve brought that GPA up significantly and earned leadership roles in several organizations.”
Laura Crain, Woodville LIT sophomore and Army veteran, said the transition from military life back to student life is difficult for veterans for several reasons — some of which can be helped.
“When we’re in the military, the government wants us to give them our all — our bodies, our everything,” she said. “But when we get out, they just brush us off to another government sector to become somebody else’s problem and we’re expected to know how to navigate all of that.
“It’s not like logging in to your LEA account. Navigating your educational benefits and getting everything in line to make sure that you’re going to get what you need and what you deserve, including compensation if you have disabilities, is hard.
“The government puts a lot of money into our training. I was military police and I did that for eight years — I have lots of training in that. I get out and that means nothing here. If I wanted to become a police officer, I’d still have to go through the entire police academy despite all of my military training. Millions of dollars are spent between salaries, uniforms and supplies but whenever you get out, that doesn’t translate into anything. They just give you four college credits and I think that’s a waste. They don’t utilize the assets that tax dollars were spent on.”
Dalton said that some veterans can get irritated by small things, because it’s hard to go from being told what to do and when to do it to having freedom of choice in everything.
“We’re drilled day in and day out on respect and ceremony,” she said. “When I was at Lamar before the Army, I was younger — I’d forgotten how campus was. Now people can wear whatever they want and say whatever they want, and it doesn’t reflect badly on them. I dyed my hair green because I was like, ‘I can do whatever I want.’”
Veterans can feel self-conscious sometimes because they are older than the average student, but that they have a lot of life knowledge and experience to offer their classmates, Crain said.
“I’m 31, and I see some of the kids in my classes that are 18 or 19 years old getting discouraged about college, and I try to keep them upbeat and tell them that it gets better,” she said. “(Veterans) have an array of knowledge beyond our service that can be beneficial to a lot of people.”
Dalton, DeVillier and Crain all said that their main goal for LVO for the 2018-19 year is to improve membership numbers and develop relationships between veterans, so that they know that they are not alone.
“It doesn’t matter your service — like for me, I never got deployed, I’m not a combat veteran and sometimes I feel as though my service didn’t count,” DeVillier said. “I just want veterans to know that they are welcome, we’re all here for each other, we’re all family and you’re not alone — if you feel like you’re going through something, whether it be bad grades or a relationship breakup, we’re here for each other.”
For information, contact Veterans Affairs at va@lamar. edu, or call 880-7198.
Story by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor