Student veterans are non-traditional students with a different set of needs than their first time in college peers. On today’s episode, we explore what support really looks like for student veterans and their families with Joe Schumacher, army veteran and Director of Veteran Services at Montana State University.
Meg: Hey y’all, it’s Meg Sunga and welcome to “Will There Be Food?”, The student affairs podcast that like your job is so much more than free pizza. Every week, we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. On today’s episode we have Joe Schumacher. Joe is the director of veteran services at Montana State University and served in the US army for 10 years. Joe, thank you so much for joining us today despite all of our technical difficulties.
Joe: Thanks for having me, Meg.
Meg: Absolutely. So Joe, let’s just jump in. You are former military, correct?
Joe: Yeah, I am. I served in the, uh, in the army and the army national guard for a little over a decade.
Meg: Fantastic. And so how did you end up in student affairs? Did you go in right after leaving the army?
Joe: Well, so after leaving the army, I used my GI bill to, uh, pursue my undergraduate degree here at Montana State. And I started volunteering with some different organizations on campus and one in particular called The Voice Center here. Um, they’re pretty heavily involved in student affairs and uh just a volunteer opportunity turned into a part-time staff position. And then after I graduated, I was asked to stay on full time and it just kinda kept going from there.
Meg: Awesome. So, and this is for me, but also for some other folks that are listening to the podcast. What exactly is the GI bill?
Joe: Yeah, so I actually went back and looked up a little bit, um, on the GI bill. So this year is actually the 10 year anniversary of what’s called the post-9/11 GI bill. Ah, so that, that went into effect back in 2009. But actually the GI bill, um, GI bill is kind of like street slang, if you will, when you’re talking about VA educational benefits. Uh, it was written into law back in 1944, uh, president Roosevelt signed that law and it was called the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. So back then, you know, this was right after, uh, World War II and we had millions of veterans coming home and, uh, the country was a little concerned. Um, you know, what are we gonna do with all these folks? And, so this law was put into place, to help them go back to school. For some of them, they actually went back and got some high school education, many went back onto college. But well the goal was to, through education, find them, you know, meaningful employment after, you know, their, their service to their country. And so it started in 1944 and has continued to evolve, you know, to fit the economy, cost of living and different things like that. The post-911 GI bill, I often refer to it as the Cadillac of GI bills cause it just is an incredible benefit that allows our students to go to school today.
Meg: That is awesome. So I’m curious, how many students do you currently serve that are student veterans at MSU?
Joe: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s actually kind of a complicated question because, so the primary function of my office is the certification of the GI bill, which we just talked about. And so the only reason that a student has to interact with my office is if they want their GI bill benefits to help pay for their time here at Montana State. I serve about 600 students who are using some type of VA educational benefit. And, and today there’s actually about five active chapters of the GI bill. So it gets even more complicated than, than what we just discussed. But it all comes down to, you know, who are you, are you the veteran? Um, there, there is a chapter of the GI bill that can be transferred, to your, to your spouse or your children if you are a veteran. So I serve a lot of military families as well. Um, but then we, you know, we serve a lot of veterans here at Montana Sstate that, you know, they might’ve served during the Gulf War period, you know, early nineties. Um, or they may be returning for a second degree. But a lot of vets out there who don’t have GI bill benefits so we, we serve them as well in helping their transition and, and retention efforts. But don’t necessarily certify their GI bill benefits.
Meg: So just to clarify, can a GI bill also help someone, like you said, families of veterans? Does that cover them too, or is it just for that veteran?
Joe: Yeah, so that’s a great question. So, the, the one thing that makes the post-9/11 GI bill so great is that it is the chapter of, VA educational benefits that can be transferred to your spouse or, eligible dependent. I think lawmakers and the VA, they realize that actually the department of defense has a program in place where active duty members can, um, go to school online while they’re in the service and they pay for it. It’s a program called tuition assistance. And so a lot of service members, they get their degree, maybe through an online school while they’re in the military and then… But they know that they have this awesome benefit called the post-9/11 GI bill and you know, lot of them have, uh, kids who are high school age getting ready to start thinking about college. College is uou know, more and more expensive every single year. And, and so they think, well, uh, I have my career, I have a degree already. It’d be great if I could give this benefit to my child or my spouse and help subsidize their, their time at university. And so, yeah, that’s, we’re seeing a very large increase in veterans choosing to pass on that benefit to their family. And here at Montana State, you know, our, our philosophy is we’re going to serve those family members the exact same way we would serve our veterans. Somewhere out there, there’s a veteran who made the decision to give their benefit to their family and we want to honor their service and their decision and take care of their family for them while they’re here at MSU.
Meg: That’s awesome.
Joe: Yeah, it’s, it’s a big part of why I really enjoy my job. You know, I think our military families, our spouses and the children of military members are really some of the unsung heroes of the military. Um, you know, they go through all of the same things, the separation, the anxiety that our veterans do and the transitions, they, they follow their veteran around the country, their service member, and then, um, and then the veteran gets this amazing benefit. Right? But maybe you’re the spouse of a military member and you’ve uprooted your life for the last decade. Um, and then you find yourself in an area trying to transition, but you don’t get quite the same assistance that the veteran does. And so we always try to do what we can to help those families who are coming along with our veterans.
Meg: So just to backtrack just a second, um, Joe, you had mentioned that your office supports both student veterans as well as families and you pride yourself in that. What are the different services that your office offers?
Joe: So yeah, the primary function of my office is to certify the VA educational benefit. Whether you’re a traditional age student, a veteran, an international student, it really doesn’t matter. We, we know in student affairs that one of the biggest stressors or concerns of our students today are their finances and finance is probably the number one reason why students drop out every semester. And so making sure that our student veterans and their families have their money on time and they know what they’re going to get and when they’re gonna get it. That’s probably the most important thing that we really can do. As, you know, student affairs professionals, we know that there’s so much more that goes into retention. But if, if we don’t know how we’re gonna pay for our time here at the college, everything else kind of takes a back seat to that. So, uh, but then again, we know, you know, so we’ve got them in the door, we know how we’re going to pay their bills, and now we’re in class. So what else? What else are the needs of our students? Well, a lot of student veterans, you know, they’ve been out of the, uh… Every student veteran has been out of the educational setting for some period of time, right? Some… somewhere between a couple of years. In my case, it was 11 years. Actually I have a student today who was he’s a retired Colonel, and returned to get a postdoc at 65 years old.
Meg: Oh my gosh!
Joe: And uh, yeah. And so, you know, I was almost 30 when I came back. And, so tutoring comes in huge, you know, trying to just a brush off the dust a little bit… And hey, turns out if you don’t do algebra for 10 years, you forget a thing or two, right? And so we want to help our students get back on track. And, so tutoring is huge and we provide free tutoring for any of our military family here, whether that’s the veteran, the spouse, the child, it’s completely free to them.
Meg: That’s awesome.
Joe: That includes mentoring. We have a great peer to peer, veteran mentoring program. So we, we, um, ah, hook up you know, our incoming student veterans with a, a more senior veteran who’s been here on campus for some time and they just kind of show them the ropes. Right? Um, it’s everything from, “hey, where’s the writing center at?” or, um, “how do I find my academic advisor?” It could be something like, you know, “I’m having a really hard time adjusting. How do I make an appointment with a counselor?”
Joe: And so our, our peer mentors, they are, if nothing else, at the end of the day… Our incoming students know that they know one other person on this campus and they know that they can text them, email them at any time of the day, and that person’s going to get back to them. So that’s a huge service we provide.
Meg: That’s awesome.
Joe: And then we do have free mental health counseling as well. So we have a, we have an incredible office on our campus of counseling and psychological services. That’s, that’s free to students. But above and beyond that, we have, a dedicated counselor that’s on my staff that, that, um, her time is, um, solely working with veterans and their families. And, you know, there, there are a lot of, uh, concerns out there with mental health amongst the veteran population. Some folks, you know, they, they, they deal with that. They really work through that every single day. A lot of veterans they’re able to transition, and they don’t really struggle with, with anxiety or PTSD. But we want our students to know that talking to a mental professional is, is normal. It’s accepted and it’s available. And if you want to do that, we want to, we want to provide that for you.
Meg: That’s awesome.
Joe: So really all of that, um, is free to our student veterans here and we try to make it as accessible. Like I said, if, if there’s some kind of a barrier to accessing services, whether that’s perceived or, um maybe it’s a cultural thing, but we try to do whatever we can to knock down those barriers and, and get people the resources they need.
Meg: Absolutely. Does your office deal with disability services as well?
Joe: So, um, we actually, we’re housed within the division of student success here at Montana state. And in other campuses you might call this student affairs, we call it student success. And within that division are all of the different offices that a student, will utilize or, or work with at some point, um, that, that’s sort of outside of the academic sphere. So everything you need outside of the classroom to keep you in the classroom. Um, like financial aid, the registrar’s office, you know, it all starts with admissions. They’re part of our team, veterans services, and then we’re right next door to disability services. And we, we are very knowledgeable about what they do and can make a nice warm handoff, you know, and, and make a good, uh, referral, when it’s needed for our students. And a lot of times, folks, when they think about disability services, they think about, you know, folks in wheelchairs or hearing impaired students, um, things like that. But, there are a lot of you know, different learning disabilities, that, we can provide accommodations for as well. And I, you know, a lot of times I normalize these things with sharing a bit of my own story with my students. You know, when I was as a sophomore, I realized that when I was in a lecture class, I could either pay attention to the professor as they were talking or I could take really good notes. I couldn’t do both. You know, and I, I actually, um, had been working with a VA healthcare and had records from my military service that showed that I actually had an injury, from my time overseas that made it so sometimes focusing was, was difficult for me in that kind of an environment. So I worked with disability services and they were able to hook me up with a note taker. And so this is an individual that is in my class. They don’t know me, I don’t know them. They’re just another student who is really great at taking notes. And at the end of the day they upload their notes to, um some software that we use and I can go in and retrieve those notes so I can pay attention in class. And then I can also access these notes at the end of the day for my studying and whatnot. And that’s an amazing accommodation that a lot of folks don’t know about. Um, and, and I’m also, they might feel like, a little anxious about trying to access something like that. And so again, we just were like, “Hey, this is just a normal thing. And, and if you need it, it’s there for you.” Yeah.
Meg: So fun facts for you, Joe. I actually was a note taker at my undergrad.
Joe: No way!
Meg: [laughs] I was!
Joe: You guys really, I mean, it was, you know, and I tell my students all the time, you gotta… Sometimes it takes a little bit of humility. And just really reaching out and taking advantage of the resources that are around you. College is stressful. It’s meant to be right. It’s meant to test your, your knowledge and your abilities and, and give you an opportunity to show your, your expertise in a field that, and sometimes you need help to do that. And, um, you know, I went to the writing center all the time and I worked with my advisors all the time and I probably racked up more tutoring hours than anyone else on this campus, you know. But because I did all that, I was able to move forward in my undergrad, graduate in four years and I had, you know, I had a pretty good GPA at the end of the day. But none of that would have been possible if it weren’t for, uh, the office of veteran services and all, you know, all of the other offices that I’ve talked about so far.
Meg: I think it’s so interesting with that story in itself. I’m thinking, you know, like I… As I was, you know, I don’t even know, gosh, 19, 20 years old in college and as I’m taking these notes for someone, never in my, you know, brain did I think that it would be someone like a student veteran. I would always assume that I was taking notes for some college football player who, you know, needed those services too. So it’s cool to hear just that kind help that the community is able to provide for one another. Um, and you know, you’d mentioned a lot about the different support services that are out there for student veterans. Just to kind of briefly go over, who are some of the, uh, who are some of those offices? Just really, just really briefly.
Joe: Yeah. So here at MSU, our registrar’s office, they are, they’re a huge resource on campus. Our registrar, he, uh, he’s a good colleague of mine. He likes to say it, admissions, you know is your resource when you’re trying to figure out if college is right for you and they help you get into the door and through orientation and once school starts, you know, we’re your people now. And so the registrar’s office, they’re a part of our division as well. Um, but they’re everything with helping you register for classes and making sure you’re, you know, staying on, on track,for your degree plan and whatnot. Financial aid, you know, we talked about how important finances are. Financial aid is huge. Um, and you know, and I’ll take a moment to, to dispel a huge rumor that’s been out there. It was, it was around when I was a student. Financial aid and the GI bill, they work wonderfully together. Um, and, uh, what I had been told when I was a student was that because I was using the GI bill, I didn’t qualify for financial aid. And that filing a FAFSA was a total waste of time. And that couldn’t be further from the truth the entire time. I was, uh, you know, Pell grant eligible. And, and so just, you know, I would say when you hear something out there, it makes sure you go to the, go to the source, go to the expert. If you hear something, yeah, you hear something about financial aid, go to financial aid and say, Hey, is this true? Right? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Now maybe you can save yourself some money. And so financial aid, disability services, we talked about them counseling services, um, our student health center, you know, they, they really cover health in the holistic sense. Everything from like eating and sleeping, right to, yeah, taking care of yourself when you, again, you’re going to be stressed while you’re here. So, um, are you doing those little things that may seem little to you but at the end of the day can pile up ? And lead to you maybe, you know, either staying in class or, or you know, getting sick and having to stay home for awhile. Um, and then you know, we have, we have student engagement as well, the office of student engagement and you know, cause we as, as student affairs professionals know that engagement is so key to retention. If a student feels like they belong, they find their people, they find something that you know, interests them and they get involved. They are more likely to succeed, retain and go on and graduate. And so they’re a part of our division as well. And when you look at our team, you know, you might kind of think, well, what the heck does counseling and health and engagement and disability and you know, veterans, what do they all have on common? And it’s just… because we, we look at the student as a whole person and, and we try not to live in silos, uh, here on this campus. And I think a lot of universities, um, they probably could say the same thing about the way that they operate.
Meg: For sure. There’s people listening right now that are like, I haven’t seen the person in that office, whatever office that is for months, years until the divisional meeting and you forget about it. Forget it. It’s around. But it’s so true. You know, you have to be able to, to come together and work together to be able to provide that support for, you know, for your students. And I think the fact that you have, you know, you’re right next door to disability services, you can, like you mentioned, I love the words that you use, that warm handshake, that handoff, um, and the, and students can feel that they can feel when you really have their back. Um, versus not. Joe, I want to touch upon, you mentioned some myths, right? That, um, the financial aid myth that you just mentioned. Um, what are other myths and misconceptions about student veterans?
Joe: Yeah, gosh, I mean, you know, I’ve, I’ve, uh, I’ve had the opportunity to, to talk around the state and our region up here in the Northwest about working with student veterans. And sometimes, you know, they’ll, they’ll ask me to come out and they’ll say, “Hey, what are the… give us the top five tips or give us this little tool box, you know? so we, we all know everything we need to know about veterans when we leave after an hour.” Right? And it’s just like, “Oh boy”
Meg: [laughs] It’s a lot.
Joe: It is a lot. And I think I like to start with just, you know, and people say, how do you work with veterans? And I say, “well, how do you work with students? How do you work with people? How do you work with your coworker, with your spouse, with family?” Um, you know, it’s about, it’s about respect, it’s about trust. It’s about building rapport, getting to know somebody. And just because you know that I’m a veteran now, um, try and throw out some of those stereotypes that you might have in your mind about me. You know, when you think of a veteran, when you think of somebody who’s, um, maybe, you know, maybe been to war, we can’t help but have some different images come up in our mind, right? I think one of the… One of the coolest things I ever did was take that, uh, implicit bias test. Did you ever do that?
Meg: I did. I did. I remember that well.
Joe: Yeah. And, sometimes, you take it and you walk away and you’re, you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I’m a horrible person.” But really, I think the word bias it, you know, it, it has its own stereotype. And when we, when we hear that someone’s biased, we automatically think a negative saying. And I think it’s, we just need to realize that we all have our biases and, and it’s important to recognize those about yourself. Be aware and when you’re moving forward and working with people. Just know, uh, I know this thing about myself maybe because of the way I was raised or just the culture and I can, um, can be mindful about that as I proceed in this next interaction I’m going to have. And, and, um, you know, I, I think, um, we talk about, you know, folks kind of their lives on a spectrum. And, I think that that’s one thing I’d like people to think about veterans as well. You know, when you, when you think about a veteran, you think about maybe a guy that’s just…a Big guy covered in tattoos or we automatically think that they are guys, right? Like I just went out there. Yeah. And so, and, and where’s the, uh, you know, the veteran… Like “I’m a veteran” t-shirt and he’s got a cameo backpack and all of these things. And you can see him walking. Yeah. You see him walking down the sidewalk and you go, “that’s a veteran.” I know he’s a veteran, right. Um, when I was in school, I just, you know, I wore, I’m kind of, you know, people, I’m a father, so, you know, people kind of make fun of the way I dress sometimes. Yeah. I dress like a dad.
Joe: But I served in the army for 11 years and I, I loved my time in the military and I would do it all over again, but that was just a part of my life, just a chapter of my life and I’m not there anymore and I’m moving forward. And so you could probably look at me and just say, ah, there’s this nerdy looking dude that, um, you know, I, I don’t know anything about him yet. Um, and you wouldn’t have known that about me unless we started talking. Uh, we, we think that veterans sometimes, um, you know, they’ve been really impacted and affected by their time in the service and that, that very well can be true. Uh, and sometimes we, when we think veteran almost anonymously, we think, uh, PTSD, right? Are we seeing depression? We think suicide. Um, and those are very big issues in our, in our community, but there are a lot of veterans who are able to transition and they don’t, you know, deal with PTSD to at the level that it’s really to abilitative. Um, and, and everywhere in between. Um, and, but I know I have a family member who has, she suffers from PTSD from a really horrific car accident, um, to the point where it’s really difficult for her to ride in vehicles sometimes. Didn’t serve in the military, but still has all the same symptoms of, you know, post traumatic stress. And, um, and so once again, a lot of the things that veterans deal with, other people deal with as well, it’s just maybe comes from, from a different life experience. And so I think the first thing is, you know, it just goes back to try not to put people into a box, you know, a couple of things about me. Um, but that doesn’t, it’s, it’s not all that I am. And, and, and I may not subscribe to all of those, those sort of stereotypes that, that you may think. And then, you know, I do like to remind folks that just like a lot of other sub identities that we have out there, we’ll take it back to sociology 101. Right? So we have, we all have our sort of our identity set. Some of mine are, I am a veteran, I’m a father, I’m a teacher. Um, I’m a mediocre amateur athlete, right? I like to play soccer and stuff like that. Um, and some of those identities we, we kind of choose. We put on ourselves and some of them are you were born into. And some of them we have, we feel really great about,so much so that people will wear it on a t-shirt. And some identities we don’t, we might not have the best feelings or experiences with. And there are things that we struggle with every day. Know, there are a lot of, um, just like a lot of other professions out there in the world. Um, and on college campuses, there are a lot of issues that the military struggles with. Uh, you know, sexual assault, sexism, oh, racism. Sometimes I, you know, some people sometimes will get out of the military because of, of, uh, experiences that they may or may not have had. And, and when they take off their uniform, they put it away and they never talk about it or think about it again. They want to, they want to move on from that part of their life. And so I need to, I have to serve those students as well. And I, and then I have people who when they leave the military, it leaves such a void in, in them. In the military they found a, a higher calling, a sense of purpose, a family, um, that maybe they never had. And when they leave that, sometimes it’s hard to find those things again. And, and so the community can play such a vital role in accepting these, these men and women back into their lives and their communities and trying to, help them find that sense of purpose again, that, that, um, that higher calling and it, and of course, that family in that place that is so important to all of us.
Meg: So for you, Joe, as a former military student veteran, do you feel like it’s easier for you to connect with these students at MSU?
Joe: You know, I think that, I think it can be definitely. And, um, I, I know a little bit about what some of them may or may not be experiencing. Um, I know what it’s like to, be 29 years old and have to start over in, you know, pre algebra, and take a full load of classes. And then once I leave the university at five o’clock, maybe go to a part-time job or go home and care for my three year old. Um, and I know some of the stress and the, and the struggle, that comes with that. And I know, um, some of what it takes to persist and, and push through that and how to take advantage of resources, right? But one thing that I, I guess an exercise that I try to perform every morning when I’m walking in is to remind myself, uh, a lot of what I just shared with you Meg is, um, “Joe. Yeah, you’re a veteran and they’re veterans. Um, but your experience here on this campus is not necessarily what their experiences is today.” And so, um, when I have conversations with them, I really want, one of my biggest things I’ve been working on this year is to be present, you know, in interactions that I have with people. When you, when you’re talking to somebody and they look you in your eye, right? As opposed to at, at your cell phone or, or at, yeah, whatever’s going on. Yeah. It’s just such a different interaction, right? And so be present, listen to listen, don’t listen to respond and, and note that, um, you know, you have an opportunity to help them out, but they also might know something or definitely know something about themselves that you don’t know. And um, so yeah, I definitely can connect with them on a, on a certain level, but it is a challenge every single day as well because I have to remind myself all of the, all of those things that I just shared with you.
Meg: Absolutely. I want to do a clarifying question for you, just to be clear. Not all veterans have a super great warm, fuzzy feeling about their time in the military.
Joe: Uh, they don’t. Not all. Many do. I would… you know, many do. I think it’s, it’s like anything, um, in your life, you may look back and even at like, look at your time in college, you might say, these were the things that were great and I loved it. And then there were these parts of it that just really were not for me or, uh, just made things really difficult or this job that you had or this former employer. You know, I think a lot of folks, uh, you can relate to a person’s time in the military when they think back about something that they may or may not have enjoyed. Um, you know, I, you know, I’m, I’m divorced. I’m a, I’m a single parent now. And, um, a lot of that came from my time in the military, the, the, the, a transition and the readjustment periods. Um, you know, when you leave, and when I deployed, I was gone for a year. And when you’re gone, your spouse learns how to do everything without you, right? They, uh, they have to pay the bills, they have to take care of the, of the child and go to work and do all of these things that two people used to do. And now they do it and then you come back and it’s great. And you’ve been both fantasizing about that moment when you come back together. And, um, and then you try to find “all right, what, what’s my role in this family again? And how do I fit in?” And there’s sort of this, there’s this person who’s been doing it all for us while I was gone. I’m doing my job and they have to sort of give, uh, give up some of their roles that they’ve been doing on their own. And long story short, it, you know, a lot of military families that kind of struggle with that back and forth. And, um, but my, my ex wife, uh, she was in the army as well and she only, she did one, uh, one contract in the army. Um, and she chose to get out because of just a lot of the, a lot of the problems that, women in the military can face today and, just didn’t really have the same experience that I had. And when she got out, she took her uniform off and he really doesn’t talk much about her time in the service anymore and it’s just because, you know, she just didn’t have a great, um, a great experience and there were a lot of people and, and situations that just made it really tough. I think when you, we all get out of the military for a reason. All, all veterans that are coming here and are in it and around the country, it’s either, you know, they’ve, they’ve served their time and they’re moving onto something else. Some folks are forced out for different reasons. I chose to get out, uh, because I had a family and, and I just, I was finding it so hard to be the, the… the father and the family member that I wanted to be and be the soldier that I want it to be. And so I chose, you know, my family and, and um, but again, I, I look back on my time and I think I think about, yeah, there were, there were struggles for sure, but so much of it was so good and really made me who I am today. But I always try to be, again, mindful that that experience is not, it’s not what everybody had.
Meg: So I have a curiosity question, mostly for me. So my, my experience with the military is my uncle is a full bird… a retired full bird colonel in the army.
Meg: Um, and then I went to college with, um, former partner who was in ROTC and then a bunch of ROTC friends. And so I have some very like thin examples of the military for myself. Um, but I always wondered whenever, I whenever I would see someone in military garb out and about coming to the airport, those types of scenarios. I’ve, I’ve never been one to say this, but I know there’s a bunch of people that always are like, “thank you for your service.” Like anytime they see someone walk by and it’s just one of those like maybe, cause I know similar to what we just talked about, you know, the military experience is different for everyone. I sometimes don’t know, you know, if I myself am comfortable saying that to someone, I don’t know, I have no idea what their experience is like. It just feels weird for me. But what is the etiquette around that? Is that even a thing? Am I just making up something that’s not a thing?
Joe: Yeah. You know, I think it’s, uh, this is probably going to be a cultural thing, you know, and, and vary from campus to campus, community to community across the nation. I think one, you know, there’s probably a couple of things that, that you could take away with that is, um, you’re getting to know a person, um, you know, before you get to that sort of level, uh, if it’s, if you’re able to, um, that’s always a good idea. I think. Of course, if you’re walking by somebody in military…. or in, in uniform, you may not stop both of your lives and say, “Hey, let’s get to know each other real quick.” But, uh, you know, if you do feel compelled to think about something that you’ve done really cool, maybe like, um, I dunno, you graduated at top of your class or whatever. Like people don’t walk around and just say, “congrats mate, thank you for doing this thing.” Or, or maybe they do. If they do, maybe that’s really cool. Right? But no, so I think if you do want to say thank you to somebody, um, you know, and, and you know a thing about them, just be mindful about how you do it. You know, don’t, I… I’ve had a lot of like hands like shoved in my face, like, shake my hand. “I want to thank you for your service.” And um, like, you know, they just, a lot of times that forceful, um, kind of experience and, and you know. Hey, I’ll put it out there: My general rule of thumb is, you know, don’t touch anybody unless you have consent or you know, that person, right?
Meg: Yesss! [claps].
Joe: Right, right. Um, it’s just never, never a really good idea. Um, and I think a, you know, for another thing for me, like I don’t, I don’t like it when people come up right behind me. Um, it’s kind of one of those, one of those things that I brought home from the military is I like to know what’s going on behind me as much as possible. You’ll often see me, you know, if we’re in a restaurant, I, I generally will sit with my my back to the wall somewhere and, um, and I can, I’m to the point now where, you know, I can have people behind me, you know, 10, 15 feet, wherever, but if you’re coming up right behind me and you put your hand on my shoulder, it’s going to give me some anxiety. Right? And probably mean that we’re not going to have a very great reaction or interaction right after. So just, you know, think about, I… I guess think about… And I think it comes from a great, a good place, right? You see this person… You’re like, “I admire, you know, what you did or what you’re doing. Um, and I want to say thank you.” Um, and I, and I would think just if you were in their shoes, how would you want to hear that? Um, or how would you want someone to say that to you? And, um, you know, professors on campus, I have been in classrooms where they’ve said, all right, if you’re a veteran or you’re in the military, stand up and you know, you may not know what’s going on, so you stand up. Yeah. And then there and then they go, alright, you know, and you’re in a big lecture hall. The rest of you applaud these men and women, thank them for their service. And it just felt really kind of weird for everybody. And I’m like, when I think of like thanking somebody, I think of it being like a real sincere, like moment of gratitude. And we both walk away feeling good about it. Right? And so if, if the interaction is going to leave, either one of us feeling awkward, um, maybe just go ahead and skip on that. Um, I guess that would be, that would be my advice. But again, that’s just one veteran and one opinion. I just think getting to know people and what they like, what they don’t like and they’re comfortable with is always a good idea.
Meg: I love that answer. Thank you. Joe, for any SA pro listening to this podcast who wants to try and be more inclusive to their student veterans on their campus, what should they do first?
Joe: Yeah, that’s a great, great question. So, you know, for, for my friends and colleagues out there on, uh, college and university campuses, um, you are probably going to have somebody on your campus who, uh, is in a role like mine. You know, we’re very fortunate here at MSU. All I do is work with veterans and their families. And sometimes people that do what I do, they also do something else, right? Maybe they’re the director of financial aid or the registrar, but you will have somebody, uh, who’s known as, a certifying official, a VA certifying official. And this is a person who’s trained to work with GI bill benefits. Now, this person may or may not be a veteran, but there they’re aware of veteran issues, right? So try and figure out, well, first, you know, does my office have a, a veteran support center or a veteran services office or a person who certifies benefits and, um… And would they be willing to talk to me about, sort of what they’re seeing on our campus? You know, I imagine right out here in Montana, we have one active duty base and it’s a couple hours away from here for the entire state. We’re a big state, Meg. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at Montana.
Meg: I’ve never been to Montana.
Joe: I’ll send you a postcard, but we’re a huge state and you know, I think our culture out here is probably a little different than maybe a school that’s right next to Fort Hood, Texas or Fort Carson, Colorado or Fort Benning, Georgia. You know, where there’s… The military presence is real heavy. Um, but find somebody on campus who is familiar with veteran issues and ask, ask them out for coffee or, you know, “can I come down and just see, well what is it that your office does and, and what are the, what do the students look like?” You know, the student veterans here on our campus as far as who are they and, and, and then let them know who you are. “Yeah, I’m from financial aid. How can I, how can I better serve your students? Are there, are there needs or stressors that they have that my office may be, can help out with?” Um, you know, if you have an ROTC department, you know, ROTC cadets are not veterans, but generally the cadre, the, the military professors, our veterans are actually active duty members and they would be a great resource as well. And then, you know, does your human resources office put on any kind of diversity training regarding student veterans and non traditional aged students? Um, ours does here, and it’s a fantastic training. But there is also a, uh, something called Green Zone training. So maybe, maybe, Meg, you’ve heard of Safe Zone when talking about like the LGBTQ community. Um, there is a training called Green Zone and um, and uh, I, it’s a, it’s a national program that you know, anybody could look into and that’s a great place to start as well.
Meg: Watch me as I currently look up green zone training.
Joe: Google it. Yeah. I know we started with Green Zone and, but then we again, every, every campus is so unique and individual and has their own culture. Um, so we, we took a lot of the things from green zone as well as local knowledge and expertise and we built sort of our own Green Zone here at MSU and because there’s a, there’s a real desire out there to serve our students better, right? They’re always trying to get better every day. And um, so we’re really excited to offer this training to our, our staff and faculty. Really any stakeholder that’s interested in serving our student veterans.
Meg: That’s awesome. I’m excited to be able to include that in our notes and resources section for the podcast for folks. Cause I just Googled it and it looks awesome. I didn’t even know this existed. So that’s why the podcast exists. I love it. Joe, before we go, is there anything else you think folks should know about student veterans? How to better serve them, how to better support them, us, everybody, their families. Anything? Last words of wisdom?
Joe: Yeah, well wisdom, we’ll see. But I think, um, I think the thing I’d just like to remind everybody is, uh, I think I mentioned earlier, right, that it’s the 10 year anniversary of the post- 9/11 GI bill. Uh, September 11th is right around the corner. Right. And, um, it’s, it’s been 18 years since that day in 2001. Um, do you remember in the mid two thousands when, you know, you turn on the nightly news and every night it was something about Iraq or Afghanistan? Um, and, and you know, thankfully, you know, we’ve, we’ve really moved out of that time. We still have a ton of people serving overseas today away from their families. And, you know, serving us. And so, you know, to ask people to be mindful about that, but also every single day, even though we’re not watching, you know, bombs falling on the six o’clock news every single night. We still… Every single day have veterans transitioning from the military, uh, back to our communities. And so I just, as, as we sort of get further and further away from 9/11, and, and from, you know, the real, um, huge surge in Iraq and Afghanistan, I just like to remind folks that we still have veterans amongst us. You know, walk into any room, any, any store you’ve got veterans around you. And, and, uh, again, you may be able to spot them by a hat they’re wearing or something, or chances are you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t even know it. And so I just like to remind folks that, you know, there are people out there every single day who have served and who have done something for our country and, and they’re fine, or they’re, you know, trying to find a way to, to reintegrate back into their communities and their lives. And anything that we can do as a community to help ease that transition for somebody who really took, um, basically they took a time out from, from their life and their plans to serve that higher calling or that greater purpose. Um, I think we owe it to them to help get them back on track. Um, keep bringing them back into the community and um, and provide resources to them to, to help them transition into this next chapter of their life.
Meg: Joe, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story and of course how you and the folks at MSU are serving and supporting your student veterans. Thanks again.
Joe: Thanks so much, Meg.
Meg: You’ve been listening to “We There Be Food?” My guest this week was Joe Schumacher, director of Veteran Services at Montana State University. You can follow Joe on Twitter at Jay, underscore E, underscore Schumacher. If you are low-key obsessed with social media like me, you can follow “Will There Be Food?” at Hello Presence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For Episode transcripts and show notes, head to presence.io/podcast. Oh and don’t forget to rate us, subscribe and share with all the friends and let us know what topics you want us to cover next. “Will There Be Food?” is a production of Presence. It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga. The show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corrado. Catch us next week when we’ll be talking about service learning.