In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln made a commitment to “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Care for veterans and military families does not rest on the shoulders of civilians; the service has developed since Lincoln’s pledge in 1865. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is the second-largest government agency, with over $125 billion in annual funding.
As children in elementary school, the essence of patriotism seemed to me to be that pure, uncontroversial deed of honoring those who served us and protected our freedoms. I’m sure that experience was the same for many of you. Our grade school teachers encouraged us to write letters to soldiers. Veterans Day was observed. If given the day off, we were urged by those teachers to take at least a moment to consider the sacrifices that our troops made.
Now, as young adults, mature thinking allows us to speak passionately about our political loyalties and we engage in debates about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rarely, though, do those who fought and came home emerge in those conversations.
It’s ironic because as college students, the status of those veterans has never been more relevant to us. Today there is an unprecedented number of war veterans — almost a million — enrolled in undergraduate programs.
As we approach Veterans Day next month, I urge you to consider the new challenges these dedicated men and women face as they return from their military service and enter the ivory tower.
The challenges for veterans pursuing a college degree are monumental and most of us will never truly understand them. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as well as other traumatic brain injuries, has a detrimental effect on the daily lives of too many veterans, but the difficulty of transitioning from military to civilian life is not exclusive to those with conditions.
Life on campus is not similar to the military. The trauma experienced by service members on the battlefields is thousands of miles away, but the effect it has on student vets is enduring. Residential communities on campus do not resemble military life, students straight out of high school can’t relate to the experience of serving in war and academic writing and research are foreign practices. Such difficulties cause heightened trauma themselves.
The vets on our campus and everywhere else deserve the admiration and respect of every student, educator and staff nationwide. Binghamton University has made the wellness of veterans a priority. The Veterans Services office under Student Affairs is working on long-term projects that will develop academic, social and psychological resources for former soldiers.
While these services must be available, the University also recognizes the need for veterans to maintain their own social network that can better convey those hardships and goals to fellow students, faculty and staff. A student-veteran organization is being developed under the Student Association.
Still, the University’s greatest challenge is identifying veterans, who are often too humble to request assistance or special treatment. Veterans must understand that they are an asset to this university, and each is valuable to our community of students. If you are a faculty member, if you know a vet, or if you are a vet who would like to support your peers, you can help by getting in touch with the Veterans Services office or myself. With your support, we hope Binghamton University will better serve those who served us.
Dov Berkman is a senior double-majoring in political science and history and the student representative of the Binghamton University Council. He can be reached at email@example.com. Vic Yang from the Center for Civic Engagement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-777-4188.