Veterans Returning to College Face Unique Challenges

ST. LOUIS — Army veteran Ben Miller remembers the isolation he felt when he enrolled at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the fall of 2009.

“I would show up on campus, talk to absolutely no one and go home,” said Miller, 27, who did three tours in Iraq as a counterintelligence specialist. “I didn’t feel like I really belonged.”

With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down and enhancements to the GI Bill, colleges and universities are expecting a surge in veteran enrollment unseen since World War II.

But some academics and veterans’ advocates are warning that many colleges are unprepared to deal with the unique needs of former service members. Many veterans face a difficult transition to civilian life, ranging from readjustment issues to recovery from physical and mental injuries. And they say without special attention, many will fail to graduate.

“If colleges are not prepared to help transition soldiers from combat you do run the risk of losing an entire generation,” said Tom Tarantino of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “The GI Bill isn’t a thank you for your service. What it really is is a readjustment benefit. It is giving them the opportunity to do something that is constructive for their mind and their body, that gives them a mission and allows them to move forward in life. It’s a backstop so you’re not walking right off the plane from combat in to the civilian world. It was designed to be a soft landing.”

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