University ranks third in services for student vets

Even when he did not have power or Internet in Afghanistan, student veteran Matthew Kane of the U.S. Marine Corp said it was easy to apply for admission to the University.

Kane is not alone receiving help from the University after his time in the military. Military Times magazine ranks the University third on a list of most accommodating and helpful institutions for former servicemen and women in the nation.

“When you get out [of the military], you’re on your own with money, grades, tuition,” said Kane, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore. “Rutgers really helps with that.”

Out of the 300 four-year traditional universities and colleges on the list, only Eastern Kentucky University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are ranked higher than the University.

The magazine considered factors like veteran graduation rate, academics and mental health services.

Steve Abel, director of Veterans Services at the University, said the department helps with any issue that might come up for its 1,300 student veterans.

Academic advising, mental health counseling, financial aid help and employment advising are just a few of the services offered to veterans, said Abel, a former U. S. Army Colonel.

“[Veteran Services] is a one-stop shop for them at Rutgers … any issue they face, we’re there to help solve,” he said.

The department maintains a network of administrators in every office on campus to specifically assist student veterans, Abel said.    

“We have a person in Financial Aid, someone in Student Accounting and that allows us to maintain support for [student veterans] no matter where they have to go,” he said.    

Abel said transitioning from active duty in the military to student life can be difficult. Many student veterans returning from combat zones suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder but are hesitant to seek help because of social stigmas attached to mental health, he said.    

“Everybody with PTSD shouldn’t be put into the category of ‘postal,’” said Abel. “I think the news plays up the harmful factor [of the disorder].”    

Veterans Services makes seeking treatment easy for student veterans and creates a private environment for students who may be reluctant to seek counseling by having a psychologist work directly out of Veterans House on Lafayette Street on the College Avenue campus, he said. Veterans House is also home to an academic adviser and a lounge for student veterans to study in, Abel said.    

Abel said the University is home to around 1,300 veterans, almost three times as many as in 2009 when he was hired as director. This is partly because the application used at that time only identified veterans through those who applied for tuition aid from the Department of Veteran Affairs through the G.I. Bill.

Veterans might choose not to apply their benefits to tuition to save them for graduate school, law school, or potentially for a spouse or child’s higher education, he said.

One of the first priorities was making it easier for veterans to identify themselves as veterans to the University, Abel said. Including a question on the applications, specifically asking if they have served in the military, made identification easier, he said.

“If you have a child, you know for sure college will be more expensive in 18 years,” he said. “You may choose to save [the benefits] for them ... so we modified the application.”     

Recently, Veterans Services opened its tutoring and academic advising services to ROTC students, said Lt. Col. Matthew Lacy, commander of the Air Force ROTC detachment at the University.    

“I’ve worked with Veterans Services in the past, and Abel has done a great job,” said Lacy, a professor of aerospace studies. “There’s been a big groundswell of support for veterans and [ROTC] cadets.”

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