New Student Organization Advocates for Veterans at GW
By Julia Parmley
Keynote speaker Robert E. Wallace, assistant adjutant general and executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Washington office, urged the audience to talk to veterans about their experiences and ask lawmakers to improve veteran benefits. “We’re never going to repay veterans for what they’ve been through, but we can try and understand them and help them be all that they can be,” said Wallace. “We must dedicate ourselves to make sure veterans never take second place in our nation.”
The Nov. 11 tribute was the first sponsored by a new student organization formed as a support and advocacy group for veterans on campus. GW Veterans, a chapter of the Student Veterans of America, was founded earlier this fall by 10 students, all of whom have served in the military: Nathan Barnes, Kevin Blanchard, George Brunner, Brian Hawthorne, Timothy Kaufmann, Josh McCoy, Robert Persons, Graham Platner, Wade Spann, and Robert Travis Wright.
“We needed a group where we could meet other veterans, discuss issues or benefits, and organize events that raise awareness,” says Blanchard, who served as a corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq. “We found out that there were more than 300 veterans in the GW community, so we knew if we got organized we could make a difference.”
Brunner says members support each other as they adjust to life after the frontlines. “There is a real need for an organization like this on campus,” says Brunner, a former Navy engineman. “Some veterans come to GW right from the service, and they need support from people who know what they’ve been through and can help them make the transition.”
Brunner says the organization has also received help from a number of GW community members, including its faculty adviser Professor of Economics Robert Trost, University Registrar Elizabeth Amundson, Director of Disability Support Services Christy Willis, Executive Director of Financial Aid Dan Small, Assistant Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Peter Konwerski, Assistant to the Chief of Staff Robert Luke, and Vishal Aswani, Student Association president.
One of the organization’s major initiatives is to advocate for the University’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which was established in the new GI Bill that takes effect August 2009. Under the program, universities that charge more than in-state tuition can offer scholarships or tuition forgiveness to veterans, and the federal government will match the amount of the tuition savings the university provides dollar for dollar.
Another initiative is educating the GW community on veterans’ experiences and issues. Hawthorne, who is a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army Reserve, says his classmates and professors have asked him to speak about his experiences in combat, and many tell him he is the first soldier they have met. Hawthorne says he and the other members of GW Veterans want to work with the University to ease the transition for future veterans into the University community. Some of the topics the organization is addressing include housing, financial aid, and transferring credits from classes taken during service.
“We are calling for the adoption of policies, such as the Yellow Ribbon Program, that recognize our unique needs as nontraditional students,” says Hawthorne, who notes that GW was the first university to accept the original GI Bill after World War II. “To me, it is important to know that there is a network of veterans at GW that I can call on and talk to about my struggles since I have been home. That support is imperative to the success of any veteran working through the sometimes difficult transition from military service to college.”