A new home for veterans

By Celeste Simmons | Posted on November 19, 2015

Veterans Day ceremony 2014. Photo: Military and Veterans Club of Kean University

Veterans Day ceremony 2014. Photo: Military and Veterans Club of Kean University

As college students, we all know the struggles of getting acclimated to life during your first semester. We all know how nervous you can feel about making friends and how you can be afraid to feel alone. Your surroundings are new and unfamiliar, the work load is different than what you’re used to, and it’s just a new experience in general.

Now take yourself back to those feelings and add in the unease of just coming back from war or just getting out of the military. You’re no longer accustomed to civilian life, all you’ve known for the past few years is the military and the people who served with you. You may have lost someone close to you or you may be suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Take all of those feelings and place yourself on a college campus with thousands of people, many of which who are unlike you and do not understand what you’ve been through or what you are currently going through. It’s a tough situation to be in and it’s what many veterans face when they come to college.

For many, a college campus can feel overly crowed and it can also be hard to find other service members to talk to and hang out with. The truth is, a lot of them feel lost.

“A lot of soldiers, they’re so use to being in the military for so long that when they transition out to the civilian side they don’t have any guidance,” said president of the Veterans Club Dionicio Estrella, an Army Sargent who is a senior here at Kean.

Estrella served in the army from 2010 to 2014. He spent 15 months in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 and came here to Kean in January of 2014.
“The hardest part of transitioning was getting used to being a civilian again,” said Estrella. “The military is so demanding that I almost felt abnormal being normal. A year before getting out, I was like so anticipating coming to school that I was actually talking to the military advisor for Kean for like a year. So when I came to Kean it was almost like a long distance relationship because we knew each other from talking over the phone for so long.”

As helpful as Kean is to the veterans, senior Clara Garcia who currently serves in the Navy and is the former president of the veterans club, wanted them to be even more helpful by opening a United Service Organization (USO) center on campus. USO centers try to provide a home away from home for service members. They are typically located on military bases, airports, and other public places. They usually have couches, snacks, computers, TV’s and some even have beds and phones they can use to call home. Although the one at Kean will not have all of those things, the safe haven type of feel they usually give will still be there.

“I came home in November 2013 and in January 2014 I started school here,” said Garcia. “I didn’t have a place. I didn’t know anybody that knew where I had been or where I’ve gone you know or the special needs that I needed to be here. So having that room you can go in there and meet somebody that actually understands and have some support.”

“This is something I started and it’s going to be an ongoing process,” said Garcia. “We need different resources for military members especially for military members that have PTSD.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster. Most people have some stress reactions after a trauma. If the reactions don’t go away over time or disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.

Dealing with PTSD can be difficult. It can cause extreme feelings of unease and discomfort, especially in noisy surroundings. You tend to feel uncomfortable around people you don’t know, you can feel on alert most of the time, and ready to react as if something is about to happen.

A USO center on campus can create a safe place on campus for military members to go to. It’s quiet and secluded from the general population of the campus.

The USO center on campus will be in Willis Hall and will feature a plaque on the wall called “The Wall of Warriors” and will consist of the names of fallen service members who have attended Kean. The plaque will be built by the student run Kean chapter of the Industrial Design Society of America. The room is currently under construction as of now and has no set completion date yet.

“We’re not just supporting each other with homework and stuff, there are also personal issues and we wanted to show that we have comradery,” said Estrella. “You’re going to be surrounding yourself in an environment where you have a whole lot of people that can understand you and what you’ve been through. I feel like it’ll be more of a comforting feeling knowing you have that support from your peers.”

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