A collaboration between a trio of St. Louis-area universities seeks to help armed forces members get adjusted back to civilian life after serving in war.
For the first time, the student veterans organizations at Washington University, St. Louis University, and University of Missouri St. Louis are teaming up to host a Veterans Week. The goal is for veterans to form the social support structure many lost after the military and also to help others see them in a new light.
Jonathan Hurly, president of SLU's Veterans Association said veterans can't really conceive the shift in worldview from Afghanistan to a college campus.
"The transition is difficult. This is where we fall short. Veterans are amazing people but the transition is very hard," Hurly said.
Hurly's story is just one example of the challenges veterans face.
"I spent nine years in the Marine Corps. I was an explosive ordinance disposal technician, which translates into bomb squad in civilian world. I left Afghanistan in 2014 and the day I returned I entered a hospital room for cancer treatment," Hurly said.
As Hurly knows first-hand, there can suddenly be a void that the military once filled.
"What makes military service unique is the social structure that drives it. Any leader in the military will tell you accountability is one of the number one rules, taking care of your troops. And when you transition from the military, that's the first thing you lose. You lose that thing that was so essential to your life before that," Hurly said.
Plus, after deployments around the world, veterans' worldviews have shifted.
"When you leave the military, you find yourself reevaluating your personal identity," Hurly said.
It can be hard for veterans to relate to classmates who are fresh out of high school. So Veterans Week aims to get veterans talking to one another about their shared experiences, whether that's their time in a war zone, their struggles reintegrating, or continues health needs.
It also gives them a sense of purpose again, with the week kicking off with a service project.
"This group of people signed up during a time when war was very real. We were in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time. When you signed up, you knew you were going to a combat zone, it was only a matter of when and every single one of these individuals signed up willingly. They have this unique capacity for service. We want to identify that right out the door," Hurly said.
On the other side of the coin, this week also aims to change how others view veterans.
"We've developed this narrative of disability. We've developed this narrative of burden on society. That's what we seek to change. We see veterans as leaders, We see them as resilient. And we see them as successful," Hurly said.
They also want prospective employers to recognize that, which is why a career networking event is part of this week's schedule.
Veterans tell News 4 their respective universities have made strides in understanding their integration needs but there is still room for improvement when it comes to understanding how the GI Bill works and health care benefits. So much of that can start with a simple conversation with a veteran, which is what this Veterans Week encourages through social networking.
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