One of the hardest things about being an non-traditional student, and even more so a student Veteran is that I have a lot of problems that most kids going through college do not. Namely, that for the most part I have very little help coming and even fewer people I can turn to when I get in trouble. There are no mentors to show me the ropes, and there are no roommates that drag me to events. I've had to find my own way, and it has been rather like being given either a compass or a map but not either.
I was sold on the idea that the Post 9/11 GI-Bill would sent me to college with little to no debt. Awesome. There was just one slight problem, it took them a long time to catch up with payments, so I was months behind when they finally did pay. In those months I'd had to dip heavily into credit cards. It was all good though I'd gotten a really high paying job over the summer, and everything was hunky dorry. Only it wasn't. Things proceeded from there, and a giant yo-yo like experience made it clear that I was going to have a very hard time indeed. When I lost that job, the second summer, and had to work at Walmart, it became clear I might be in serious trouble.
But it hasn't just been finances. When my first spring semester came along some jackass decided to leak classified intel to the media. The result was that a lot of mental issues, that I had thought behind me came rushing to the front, and I was nearly paralyzed for almost three weeks. There are very few college students who have to deal with Post Traumatic Stress, and even fewer who can understand why a video that the rest of the world forgot about caused me to be filled with sheer terror. Then in the spring semester of my sophomore year my dad died. Everyone's dad will die, but there was so much in life that I still wanted to ask his advise on. I may be a man, but there are still gateways in manhood I have yet to pass through that, I would hope for a role model, what man do I now consult when I become a father myself, Or how to be a good husband?
Then there has been the ever present specter of isolation. I am older than all my counterparts. I have seen the world, and done things most of them have only read about or watched in movies. This makes it harder to form a bond with many of them. To combat this I joined a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Order, and that has really helped, as has keeping up with the Veterans of West Virginia University. Having a place of like minded, similarly foul mouthed individuals who know and understand what I'm going through, helps a lot. But if something comes up and I fall off the grid, there will be no one to come and check up on me. There will be no one that cares or knows my situation well enough to say "I think he's having trouble I better look in on him". I'm greatful for the friends I've made, but being a Veteran in college can, at times, be utterly lonely.
Lastly, there is often a world view I simply do not share with any professors. Opinion is often the basis of course work, and believe me you should have heard the back and forth between my sociology teacher and I. That there are very few fact based courses can often lead to a lot of arguments with professors, and if not disillusionment, then a certain amount of disdain for the acedimia. How do I hold back my tongue or find the right way to dissent with my professors, without effecting my grade? More importantly how do I stay focused and involved in a course my university says I have to take yet clearly I see neither utility or merit in? I would spend furious hours in my freshmen year railing on about the pointlessness of some of the general elective courses I have to take. If I'm not a "Humanities" major what do I care about cubism or the art history from the Renaissance till now? I have neither the time nor inclination to sit and stare at art and analyze it for a deeper meaning. This frustration is not held by the younger students, because they don't really care, its just something they have to get through, but for me. . . it is sheer torture.
Your typical student might have to deal with one or two of these issues, but typically they would not have to deal with them all at once. If I were to add in that there have been days I've been nearly crippled by PTSD, to the point I simply can't go to class, or even do more than eat and sleep, it is really no wonder that college has been something of a nightmare for me. I would hazard a guess that I'm not the only student Veteran that feels this way. Go ask one of the Green to Gold cadets about their life. Or even better the Army National Guard students. You think dealing with the Social Security office, IRS, or DMV is bad? Try calling to get verification that the school is going to be paid. 9 times out of ten you'll be passed from office to office, before someone politely tells you they have no idea who is dealing with your issue to say nothing of the paperwork your unit submitted.
The life of a student Veteran is hard. We are often buoyed by the thoughts of our forefathers of the WWII/Korea generation, who came home, went to college and found prosperity, not only for themselves but also the nation. Even the Vietnam Veterans, have had their tales of success. The OIF/OEF veteran, however, faces a stark contrast. It's a sign of the times, but the jobs just aren't there anymore. The GI Bill might see them through college, but they may find nothing waiting for them after college. With all these bleak realities facing them, it is hard not to feel as if somehow the American dream has slipped beyond our reach. That the promises made will go unfulfilled, and we will simply slip through the cracks, forgotten and ignored. No doubt, there will be more political grandstanding about these grim truths. Speeches will be made, money thrown at the problem, and all the while, the hopes and dreams of a lot of young men and women, will, like the proverbial old soldier, simply fade away.