Calling All Veterans
New student group for former soldiers started at BU
When Joshua Hildebrand arrived at BU in fall 2010, the recently discharged Marine was surprised to find that he was the only veteran in his Graduate School of Management class.
Just a few months back from Iraq, Hildebrand (GSM’12) had anticipated some culture shock as he readjusted to civilian life, but he didn’t expect to have to face it alone. As he navigated the Byzantine workings of Veterans Affairs to get his G.I. Bill benefits, Hildebrand found himself wishing for someone to commiserate with and ask for advice. He longed to tip back a beer with someone who knew what a BAH was or what it meant to be “outside the wire”—someone, in short, who had also served in the military.
Hildebrand began searching for veterans on campus, but found that privacy issues made it next to impossible to track them down or even to find out how many there were. And he discovered that there wasn’t even a veterans organization on campus. A year later, Hildebrand and three first-year Graduate School of Management students, all veterans, have changed that. They formed the Boston University Veterans Association (BUVA), with Hildebrand serving as president.
The BU group is one of a growing number of similar clubs popping up at colleges around the country as veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq leave the battlefront for college campuses. Student Veterans of America, a national umbrella organization of campus groups, has seen its chapters increase from just a dozen or so in 2008 to a current 493 in 49 states, according to director Michael Dakduk. The trend should continue as troops are drawn down in Iraq and Afghanistan and more and more returning veterans make their way to lecture halls.
Locally, BU joins other colleges with veterans groups: Northeastern University, Boston College Law School, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. The BU club is open to graduate and undergraduate student veterans, a number the Dean of Students Office estimates at 70. Staff and alumni who served in the armed forces can also become members.
John Weldon, associate dean of students, says student veterans often are older and live off campus. Consequently, they can end up feeling isolated and being unaware of the student services the University offers, such as counseling. The association will help reach these student veterans, predicts Weldon, himself a veteran.
“We’ve found in many cases these students are discharged in the summer and just a few months later find themselves sitting in a classroom,” he says. “It’s a different culture. They need support from their peers as well as the University.”
The association took shape after Hildebrand appeared on a panel last August for incoming GSM students. He identified himself as a veteran and was approached after the event by Zachary Shore (GSM’13), Stephen Khanoyan (CAS’07, GSM’13), and Patrick Reilley (GSM’13), all newly minted veterans.
The men quickly discovered they had much in common. They were all officers, had all worked in intelligence, and had all escaped injury. And with the exception of Reilley, all had been stationed in the Middle East. Khanoyan served aboard the Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Truman off the coast of Iraq. Shore was a Marine deployed to Afghanistan, where he trained Afghan police in the Helmand Province, before serving two tours in Iraq. And Hildebrand spent a year at al Asad Air Base in Western Iraq. Reilley was aboard nuclear aircraft carriers in Hawaii and Japan for six years.
Over beers at the BU Pub, the four quickly bonded. They talked about BAHs (Basic Allowance for Housing), the stipend they get for rent, and their experiences going outside the wire (leaving the safety of the base).
“It’s a kind of fraternity where they speak your language,” says Shore. “I loved the Marines. I want to assimilate, but I don’t want to let go of that culture. Starting an organization like this is one way to stay in touch.”
Providing that kind of camaraderie is a central aim of the club. Another goal is to bring veterans together so they can share information about how to cut through VA red tape to get their benefits. Reilley says he has yet to receive one penny for his housing and that when his tuition payment finally came through, it was $2,500 short. Hildebrand, who is still in the reserves, says he picked BU because he’d been informed his G.I. Bill benefits would cover 100 percent of the tuition. But after arriving on campus, VA informed him it would only cover 60 percent. He’s been wrestling with VA paperwork ever since to regain his full tuition payments.
“The VA moves at the pace of molasses,” Hildebrand says. “It can be pretty frustrating. Nobody should have to deal with that, especially when they are just starting school.”
It’s these kinds of problems the four hope the association can help address for returning soldiers. But the first order of business is just identifying other veterans on campus. Only a handful showed up at their first meeting in November. They hope for more at upcoming events, including a reception with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) at the BU Pub and a panel discussion with BU Allies, a group that educates the campus on what it’s like to be in the military.
Part of the challenge is that although the Dean of Students Office can contact student vets on campus for the club, as they did for that first meeting, privacy rules prohibit them from sharing that information with the club itself. So for now, the foursome has to wait for vets to come to them.
The Reality of Today’s Military—A Talk Back with Boston University Veterans Association, presented by BU ALLIES and the BUVA, will take place Tuesday, November 15, at 5 p.m. in CAS 211. The event is free and open to the public. The BU Veterans Association will hold its next meeting on Thursday, December 1, at 5 p.m., location TBA. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
To contact the Boston University Veterans Association, email email@example.com.