Legionnaires ideal mentors to student veterans

Veterans returning from overseas and heading to academic institutions face a number of challenges, including filing for benefits, navigating VA’s education claims system and adjusting to life on campus.

The Legion’s departments and posts are well suited to help this new generation of students make their transition from service to school as seamless as possible, said Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America. With the ability to assist freshly separated veterans with benefits claims and other veterans issues, Dakduk said Legionnaires and their posts are ideal to reach out to student veterans and provide mentorship and the assistance of post service officers.

"(Legionnaires) understand how to navigate the bureaucracies of the Department of Veterans Affairs," Dakduk said. "Legionnaires could provide some unique things to student veterans, especially through their service officers."

Legionnaires and posts can easily get involved with the student veteran population at nearby schools in their communities by identifying and contacting the Student Veterans of America (SVA) chapter on campus.

An official partner of The American Legion, SVA is a student veterans group that coordinates a coalition of military support chapters at college campuses in the United States and around the world. Veterans can congregate in SVA chapters at their schools for camaraderie, and for social and professional events.

An SVA chapter has its finger on the pulse of the veterans community at its host school and is always looking for assistance from Legionnaires and local posts, said Dakduk. In the past, posts have joined with chapters to help dedicate war memorials, assist with benefits claims and provide general mentorship.

SVA chapters can be located using the Chapter Locator at SVA’s website, www.studentveterans.org.

There is a perceived divide between older veterans and younger veterans, Dakduk said. But that is a false perception. Older veterans, including many Legionnaires, are exactly the kind of mentors student veterans could use.

"Legionnaires have already gone through the process of reintegrating back into society," Dakduk said. "They understand the challenges that this newest generation faces. They’ve been through it."