The influx of veterans returning from overseas and heading to academic institutions faces a number of challenges, including filing benefits, navigating through VA’s education claims system and adjusting to life on campus.
Departments, posts and Legionnaires everywhere 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 typical veterans issues, Dakduk says Legionnaires and posts are ideal entities to reach out to student veterans and provide mentorship and the assistance of their post’s service officer.
"(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 locating and reaching out to 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 on SVA’s website.
"I can remember different Legion posts in my community were very helpful with initiatives I was working on when I was on campus," said Dakduk, a recent graduate of UNLV.
Posts and departments also are well-positioned to provide financial assistance to the student veteran population at a local school. The Department of Iowa recently donated $1,000 to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, for an interactive, multimedia touch-screen display on campus that honors previous and current veterans from the school.
Pacific Palisades Post 283 also recently donated $10,000 to help the veterans resource center at Santa Monica College keep its doors open. Administrators used the donation to hire an extra academic counselor. Before bringing in the additional counselor, veterans sometimes had to wait up to two hours to receive counseling.
"Legion posts have a reputation of being very giving financially for community-based initiatives, whether it’s for a monument on campus or for giving of emergency financial aid," said Dakduk.
Dakduk says that ultimately there is a perceived divide between veterans of previous eras and veterans of current wars. But it’s a false perception that doesn’t and shouldn’t exist, as older veterans like 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."