Veterans face unique challenges as college students

Kevin Miller, a graduate student at San Francisco State University, veteran, and Media Relations Specialist for Swords to Plowshares, speaks with Xpress in downtown San Francisco on Apr. 7, 2017.

Two veterans, including one SF State graduate student, are conducting an ongoing study to assess the needs and challenges veterans face while in college.

Graduate Kevin Miller and Victor Inzunza, both Marine veterans, have been reaching out through the Veteran’s Affairs office at SF State to conduct data research through focus groups at four different educational institutions: City College of San Francisco, University of San Francisco, SF State and University of California, Berkeley.

During the study, Miller and Inzunza learned of two SF State veterans who committed suicide in fall of 2016.

“That’s basically why we’re doing the study, to identify what those needs are,” Miller said.

Miller works as a media relations specialist at Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to veterans.

He said Swords to Plowshares has helped older generations, and now the organization is working to understand the needs of the 9/11 generation and gauge student-soldier awareness of school resources.

“We’re unfamiliar of the needs of student veterans and we’re looking for the gaps anywhere for the needs of this population,” Miller said.

The study focused on public universities, private universities, and city and state colleges with the purpose of getting a wide range of students’ experiences.

Sword to Plowshares policy analyst Inzunza said focus groups identified a trend — older generations of Gulf War vets commonly attend city colleges, while 9/11 veterans and people over the age of 25 tend to enroll into universities.

“A lot of the data right now would support that veterans are doing a lot better than people previously thought,” Inzunza said.

Still, Inzunza said the focus groups are shedding light on serious issues, such as homelessness and suicide among student veterans.

V.E.T.S. Corner, located in Burke Hall, is seen by some veterans as a place to study, share stories and relax. Gabriel Flesher, a veteran in the United States Coast Guard and a political science major at SF State, believes V.E.T.S. is the place where others like him can find solace, comfort and community. He also believes this group and Veteran’s Services on campus are underfunded.

“Both entities are necessary in the lives of Student Veterans and Dependents. Both are underfunded, under-resourced, and often function on life support. If it weren’t through the volunteer and VA Work Study efforts of Veterans and Dependents, they would equally be in trouble,” Flesher said via email.

Underfunding is a concern for Marine Veteran and SF State marketing major Will Cuevas. He says veterans are not finding the resources to help them succeed, and believes more veterans should get involved in the process of returning to school.

“Our big issue is the lack of veteran involvement with the student organization, so it’s hard to dictate what they want,” Cuevas said. “(A lot) of the time veterans want things that aren’t possible or feasible.”

Approximately 120 veterans filled out surveys and participated in focus groups from the selected schools.

The study also identified problems encountered with housing, especially in San Francisco where cost of living has gone up exponentially — a concern for veteran advocates.

“The high cost of living is just tough for anybody,” Miller said. “You can look at data — just millennials in general, millennials are starting to leave the Bay Area. Veterans also fall under that demographic, most of them are unaware of community services that are available.”

Student veterans are utilizing the knowledge gained from the study to get a heads-up on employment and housing in the San Francisco region.

Results of the study will be published in May, with a report that will help the needs of veteran students in the Bay Area.

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