Student Club Revitalizing Programs to Support Student Veterans
November 10, 2014
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2243
MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Veterans Service Club, a student organization at Montana State University Billings, has re-emerged behind a new push to strengthen veteran support programs.
Matt Rich, a sophomore political science major, has helped champion the efforts to bolster veteran support services and outreach by re-organizing the student club.
“Ultimately, Veterans Service Club is a really good way for student veterans to connect with one another,” Rich said. “The purpose is to provide the same sense of camaraderie that veterans had while in the service.”
The 29-year-old army veteran remembers the isolation he felt when he first enrolled into college after serving seven years in the military, four of which were spent overseas.
As a freshman at Wallace State Community College in Alabama in fall 2010, he was among the surge of veterans returning home from wars in Iraq in Afghanistan and utilizing the enhanced GI Bill®. College was the first step in his plan to reshape his life.
But the transition from combat to civilian life proved to be difficult, let alone transitioning back into a classroom, Rich said.
“The worst two years of my life were the two just out of the military,” he said. “It was incredibly hard to relate to people. I could pass 100 people in a day, and maybe talk to one person. I didn’t feel like I belonged.”
Rich, who did two tours divided among Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea, wasn’t alone in his plight.
Director of Disability Support and Veteran Services Trudy Carey said it’s common for veterans to find the transition from service to civilian life hard, facing a lot of challenges such as physical, mental and emotional injuries, financial burdens and social adjustments.
“Student veterans are an integral part of the MSU Billings student body,” Carey said, noting there are 234 students receiving veteran benefits. “It’s important to generate awareness of the challenges they face and provide the resources and support needed to graduate.”
Three semesters into his second-attempt at college, Rich said failing out of school again isn’t an option for him.
And, he is committed to providing other student veterans with the support he didn’t have during his initial transition to college.
“The group’s goals are to help veterans on both campuses connect with one another and learn about all the services and resources available to them,” Rich said. “My time in the military has ended, but that doesn’t mean my service to our nation and those around me has.”
Elizabeth Fullon, a general education instructor and the club’s co-advisor, said the group provides a roadmap to financial aid information and veteran benefits, transition assistance, peer-to-peer student mentorship, camaraderie, and service and networking opportunities.
“Most veterans come to the university with leadership experience, excellent team-player skills and a first-hand understanding of what service means, Fullon said. “A veterans club can provide an environment where students can sharpen, employ and share those skills.”
The group, composed of 20 members, hopes to reach additional current students and alumni who may be veterans, and increase interest and participation in the organization.
“While in the military vets are a very tight-knit group with shared experiences, both good and bad,” Rich said. “It’s hard to lose that, and maybe even harder to find it in college. But, that is where the veterans club comes in.”
For more information, call Fullon at 247-3085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO: Army veteran Matt Rich has stepped into the role as president of the Veteran Support Club, a student organization that has re-emerged after a three-year hiatus.