Student veterans deserve greater acknowledgment from student body

Zhelun Chen

UT has over 1,100 registered student organizations and offers countless student services, but perhaps none do more for its members than the Student Veterans Services Office (SVS) and the Student Veterans Association (SVA). Although the SVS and SVA provide support and resources for student veterans, their work goes unnoticed when much of the UT student body is unaware of the prominence of student veterans on campus. 

According to Jeremiah Gunderson, director of UT Student Veteran Services, there are between 300 and 400 undergraduate student veterans on campus. Gunderson said college is different for many student veterans than it is for the average civilian student. 

“Our veterans are older than your traditional students,” Gunderson said. “Our average veteran ages are between 25 and 30. In a school filled with predominately 19 to 20 year olds, it can feel very isolating for them.”

There are a lot challenges facing veterans who return to school after service, according to SVA vice president Kimberly Burris. 

“For veterans, the military dominates their life,” Burris said. “You simply
become identified as a veteran — for a lot of people they want to take a step back and just become John or Sally or whoever they are. So it’s very strange for them to come back into the fold and realize for them it’s okay to be a veteran and a student at the same time.” 

Fortunately, the SVA and SVS provide copious resources to student veterans to help them in their transition after leaving the services, ranging from full-time VA services, veterans orientation, mentorships, support groups, intake care, work studies, peer to peer support, working with dependency benefits, free tutoring, professional development and veteran scholarships.

“We are unique at UT-Austin, because we have an everyday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. fully staffed office with veteran staff serving veterans and even a full time VA,” Gunderson said. “Most other schools don’t have that — they only have a certified official who is typically not a veteran processing their benefits.”

The SVS and SVA are the two most visible organization on campus trying to reach out to student veterans, but they are having difficulties reaching out to the student body in recognizing problems facing student veterans. Student veteran issues should be at the forefront of student concerns. Those that served the United States deserve the student body’s attention, and students should be aware of the challenges they are facing. We should help them in their efforts by educating ourselves about the presence of student veterans on campus and spreading the word to student veterans who may not know about the services SVS and SVA provide. Students should let them know that they are not alone on this campus.

Chen is an international relations and global studies senior from Galveston. He is an associate editor. Follow him on Twitter @ZhelunC.