Graduate student Edric Arana ’11 has discovered during his years on campus that Illinois State University offers its student veterans all kinds of assistance, from added flexibility in the Registrar’s office, to a new study center, to extra help securing financial aid.
But he’d like to make it easier for other veterans to do the same. Sensing the need to help others navigate a complex system of services, benefits and other aid, Arana and other like-minded veterans this semester launched a new registered student organization, or RSO, called Veterans at Illinois State.
“The facts are out there. We just need to share them with everyone,” Arana said.
The group aims to identify and network with many of the 500-plus student veterans now on campus, build awareness about issues facing former service members, and advocate on their behalf. The new RSO, which is a Student Veterans of America chapter, already has around 30 members.
The group formally launched in October, a month after another campus milestone – the opening of Illinois State’s Veterans Study Center in 110 Moulton Hall. The center’s opening was the catalyst for bringing everyone together who saw the need for a veterans RSO, Arana said.
“This room was the focal point,” Arana said.
Other veterans on campus saw the same need. Another student, Matthew Klus, had already been circulating a petition to get an RSO started. During a class last summer, exercise science junior Olivia Arratia-Bedolla was assigned to write a fake proposal for something and chose to argue the case for a veterans RSO. Now, the Army veteran (2002-11) is the real-life group’s secretary.
The first priority for Veterans at Illinois State is to network with (and find) potential veterans. They got off to a good start this week, co-hosting a discussion about veterans issues with Diversity Advocacy and the Registrar’s Veteran Services office that drew a crowd of about 56 people to the study center. (Down the road, Arana said they’d also like to pursue larger events, such as veterans career or benefit fairs.)
Arratia-Bedolla says she could walk right past a student in a hallway and never know they’re a veteran too, much less facing the same nontraditional-student issues.
“A lot of people miss the camaraderie of military service,” she said.
Arana, now the student group’s leader until elections next semester, served in the Navy from 2001-07, deploying to Iraq once. He came to Illinois State after a two-year stint in community college, finishing his bachelor’s in the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences and then starting on his master’s degree.
The transition hasn’t always been easy. He suffers the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, related to his service, making it difficult for him to concentrate at times during graduate school.
The Department of Criminal Justice Sciences has “bent over backwards” to help Arana stay on track academically as he struggles with PTSD, also helping support the RSO, Arana said. He’s also been impressed with his Student Counseling Services counselor’s willingness to work with a veteran.
He thinks that assistance can be even better if it’s more centralized, with help from the new RSO. It took a while, for example, before Arana even discovered that the Disability Concerns office existed.
“It’s all about bringing people together so they have access to the information,” Arratia-Bedolla said.
Ryan Denham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.