Staff of military vets offers support for student veterans
Editor's Note: This story is part of a special Veterans Week series that looks at ASU's student veteran population.
For a list of Veterans Week events and seminars that aim to raise awareness about the unique needs of our servicemen and women, visit students.asu.edu/military/veteransweek.
The aviation bug bit Chris Rauschenbach as a 12-year-old paperboy, when one of his customers offered to take him up for a spin in a Cessna 152. After that airborne jaunt he saved his money for flying lessons, soloing at the age of 16.
The experience led to a stint at the Air Force Academy and a 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force, piloting the giant C-5 Galaxy transports. He ferried soldiers and supplies to Panama and later to Iraq, also teaching other pilots, while moving his family to Texas, California, Oklahoma, Delaware, even Germany.
Now he is ground-based as program manager for ASU Veteran Services, sharing his life experience with student veterans who are trying to adjust to academic life, helping them navigate the paperwork for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. Almost all the people who staff the new Pat Tillman Veterans Center are veterans, and there’s a camaraderie that is quickly evident.
The Tillman Center opened last August to provide a single point of contact for veterans and their dependents.
ASU’s student body includes 1,603 veterans and 483 veteran dependents who are receiving VA benefits. For many it can be a rough transition, leaving a very structured military life for a looser, less defined campus experience. Those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often face additional difficulties.
Sitting still can be difficult for those who were exposed to sniper fire, for instance, or a dark classroom with a professor using a laser pointer can trigger anxiety. Even seeing something as pervasive as a cell phone can bring unwelcome memories because they have been used to trigger improvised explosive devices.
“There are enough things here to remind them, and if they come back and can’t get out of that mindset, it impacts their sleep and their ability to concentrate,” Rauschenbach says. Talking to each other, and to counselors, can help.
“The center is a place where they can come and feel welcome and develop a connection with other veterans. The more involved veterans are at ASU, the more they connect and meet with their peers, the better their chances of success are. We provide a sense of understanding that they are a unique population, and we help them with the transition.”
Veterans typically have four to six years of military service, he said, and many have been in positions of high responsibility. They tend to be more mature and more focused, ready to “knuckle down and treat this like their next mission.” They bring a great deal to class discussions, though some may have little patience for philosophical discourse. “They tend to be pretty bottom-line,” he says.
Rauschenbach and other staff members helped student veterans rewrite their resumes during the recent Career Fiesta, when employers came to the ASU campus to meet and interview students. They weeded out military jargon and acronyms, translating students’ military experience into meaningful work experience.
Each semester the veteran services staff works with students to recertify their enrollment with the VA, so students can receive benefits under the GI bill. While benefits vary by program, the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays in-state tuition for veterans who served at least three years, plus a housing stipend and $1,000 a year for books and supplies. In some cases, the veteran can even choose to transfer their benefits to a spouse or child.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect two years ago, a huge benefit to the troops coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, needing to retool and prepare for their next careers, says Rauschenbach. “The country realized the sacrifices they have made,” he says.
ASU, along with the other Arizona universities, now offers in-state tuition to veterans with an honorable discharge who are willing to show intent to become Arizona residents. ASU also was named a “Military Friendly School” by GI Jobs magazine for the last three years in a row and was named one of the top 10 “Best for Vets: Colleges 2011” by the Military Times Edge magazine.
In addition to providing comprehensive services at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, the university was chosen as one of eight schools to pilot the VetSuccess on Campus program, allowing ASU to have one full-time and one part-time VA representative on staff.
The Tillman Center staff includes Jason Smith, a 22-year Navy veteran, military advocate and ombudsperson for issues with benefits and credit transfers; Tom Dooley, a 20-year Army veteran, VA outreach coordinator providing vocational testing, career advising and readjustment counseling along with ASU counseling services; Troy Rundle, VA representative and vocational rehabilitation counselor; Reda Chambers, an office specialist senior; and Jack Blair, an office specialist senior and five-year Navy veteran.
Nine VA work-study students, all veterans except for one spouse of a vet, provide invaluable office support to process benefits each semester. The comfortably furnished center includes computer work stations, a lounge and a meeting room where a new Student Veterans Club meets regularly. The ASU Alumni Association also has a new Alumni Veterans Chapter.
Rauschenbach has scheduled two training seminars for faculty and staff on the unique nature of the veteran student population, to increase awareness of their special needs. A seminar at the Downtown Phoenix campus will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m., Nov. 7, in the AE England Building auditorium. A Tempe campus seminar will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Nov. 8, in the Memorial Union Pima Room.
The training will be led by Robert Stockman of the Vet Center in Phoenix and will address issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and hyper-sensitivity. Members of ASU’s VetSuccess on Campus and Campus Counseling Services also will be present to answer questions following the presentations.
Written by Sarah Auffret