When combat veteran Matt Grove returned from Afghanistan and became a University of Colorado at Boulder student, he joined a growing number of college students who are also war veterans.
To help determine the needs of this growing population of students and ease the transition from military to civilian life as a student, CU-Boulder has opened a new Office of Veterans Affairs.
One of the first charges for the new office will be to determine who the military veterans are on the CU-Boulder campus, according to Greg Akers, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who is director of the new office.
"We need to figure out what we provide and what we need to provide for our veterans," said Akers. "This is hard information to get because we currently don't know how many veterans we have on our campus."
A recent report drafted by campus officials estimates that CU-Boulder has between 350 and 1,000 student veterans. To help track them, the campus admissions office will begin asking prospective students if they are veterans, something the office used to do, according to Akers.
"Veterans have played an important role in the university's history, and today they bring an ethic of service and abundant life experience to the campus community," said CU-Boulder Chancellor G.P. "Bud" Peterson. "We are confident that the Office of Veterans Affairs will play a key role in ensuring that we serve all our veterans with the same honor and integrity they demonstrated in serving our nation."
In the post Vietnam War era, CU-Boulder had a veterans affairs office that provided assistance beyond financial aid, but it was discontinued. With the anticipated increase in combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Akers said there also will be a growing need for more services.
"We realized that there was no element that looks out for, or champions, veterans' causes on our campus," Akers said. "The job of opening this office is appealing to me because it is something I am very passionate about, and I definitely see the need for it."
Some of the goals Akers has for the new office include recruiting more veterans to campus, creating veteran scholarships, offering peer counseling and counseling referrals to veterans, and developing a campus veterans support group.
For example, CU-Colorado Springs recently received a $100,000 grant from the Daniels Fund to create veteran scholarships and recruit veterans to the campus. Akers said he is especially interested in pursuing similar grants for the CU-Boulder campus.
CU-Boulder already has a Veteran's Services Office, which is part of the Office of Financial Aid. Its main function is helping eligible students apply for their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits. But Akers said there is much more that needs to done for this growing population.
"Our veterans are an element in the diversity of our campus, and we are making an effort to accommodate this group," Akers said. "My experience is that students, campus administration and faculty are very supportive of our veterans, and I think this new office helps recognize that."
Grove, 26, saw combat as a Marine in Afghanistan and is now working toward a bachelor's degree in history at CU-Boulder. He said opening the Veterans Affairs office on campus is a good idea.
"Hopefully it will help veterans to get assistance from the VA so they can pay for school, and also help us stay connected while we're in school," Grove said. Grove plans to finish his degree at CU-Boulder and then to continue his career in the Marine Corps.
Before taking the job to create the new Office of Veterans Affairs, Akers directed the Marine Corps ROTC program at CU-Boulder for four years. He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps this spring after 28 years of service, including numerous combat units and posts at the Pentagon and in Africa.
For more information, visit the Office of Veterans Affairs Web site at www.colorado.edu/StudentAffairs/VA/.