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Veterans share experiences, adjust to life back at home

Posted on 12.11.2013

The University of Indianapolis has a sizable veteran student population. Currently, 110 UIndy students benefit from extra veterans’ financial aid from the university.


Jose Sanchez, third from the left, stands with his brothers in arms in Iraq during one of his three tours.

Grades and Registration Coordinator Kathy West is in charge of veteran affairs for the campus and explained how veterans qualify for benefits to the university.
“The Post-9/11 Bill, also known as Chapter 33, is a benefit that they offer to veterans who were in the military after 9/11,”  West said. “They have to serve 36 months in order to receive this benefit at 100 percent.”
West explained that with the Post-9/11 Bill, veterans have their tuition covered by Veteran Affairs, which will cover about $19,000 per year. The amount does not cover all of the tuition, which designates UIndy as a yellow ribbon school. A yellow ribbon school covers the portion of the tuition that the VA benefits do not. Of the 110 students receiving veteran benefits, 65 students are using the full Post-9/11 benefits, while 25 of the students using the benefits are either children or spouses of military veterans.
West said that the university believes that offering veterans benefits allows them a chance to get back to a normal civilian life and continue their education.
“I think it is very important for veterans coming back from overseas to be able to start a new life,” West said. “Not only that, but if the veteran themselves is not interested in continuing their education, they can always transfer their eligibility—their benefits—to their children or to their spouse.”
Private Jose Sanchez, a junior political science major, is one such student veteran who has started his life anew at UIndy.
Sanchez originally enlisted in the military in October 2001 and has served three tours in Iraq starting in 2007, with the most recent ending in June of this year. During the first tour, he and his unit helped construct a school for Iraqi children.
“After the school was built, we brought in a bunch of textbooks, paper, pens, pencils—different things that were needed for a school. We had provided security on the first day it was open,” Sanchez said. “Seeing all those kids come into a brand new school, the first time back to school in three years since the fighting began, seeing the looks on their faces and how happy they were to actually be able to go to school while most kids dread going to school at their age—they were just ecstatic to be going to school—that was probably the best moment I had overseas.”
Sergeant Joseph Keller, a senior criminal justice major, served tours in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Baqubah. His outlook on the war and what he saw was what he called realistic. He saw both negative and positive aspects in the experience.
“On the negative side, you would see conflict, and the people and locals fighting each other,” Keller said. “However, on a more positive note, you see American troops working through the blood, sweat and tears and working long hours to secure Iraqi freedom.”
Both Sanchez and Keller talked about the readjustment to civilian life once they returned from Iraq. For Sanchez, it was more the small things that took time to get used to.
“I would say the driving is a lot different,” Sanchez said. “I drive a Jeep now, and it’s a regular old Jeep, as opposed to overseas. I’d drive an up-armored vehicle that was almost two-and-half tons, or something like that.  It takes a lot longer to stop, and the turns are much harder, so the driving is a lot different. Also, there are no stoplights over there. So here I sometimes forget to look up for that little stoplight. It is the small details that can be the most stressful.”
Upon returning home, Keller’s initial issue was finding employment and adjusting to the civilian work culture which contrasts sharply with his experience overseas.
“It was tough to find a job, although it is tough for anyone to find a job. The military is very regimental—as in, you get up early, work your butt off, and there is  the expectation that you’re to give it your all,” Keller said.
Keller said that on the job, his drive and military work ethic made him stand apart from the less motivated individuals.
“When I got the first job after returning from overseas,  I was still running with that kind of mentality and as a result,  [I] was very energetic,” Keller said. “I stood out against the other employees who were more sluggish.”
For both men, serving gave them a sense of pride in their country as well as a chance to see the world through another lens. Sanchez said that his time overseas gave him a new perspective.
“I would say that my experience overall has changed because of the locations I’ve been to … it changed my perspective as far as the way I’ve seen the world and as far as my patriotism goes,” Sanchez said. “I’m a lot more patriotic now that I’ve served my country.”


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