Vets Helping Vets on Campus: PAVE Assists New Student Veterans
Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a retired combat veteran who has decided to take advantage of the GI Bill to complete his or her college education. It’s been at least four or five years since you’ve been in a classroom setting, compared the two or three months that the other freshmen have experienced. Suddenly all the rules, schedules, and expectations you’ve lived by are gone, and you’re learning a completely new social dynamic. You’re trying to work through an education system that serves thousands of incoming students, and you’ve been trained to be self-reliant and strong. It can be hard to reach out for help, or even know where to find it.
Most of your new peers – other students – don’t carry the responsibility of financially supporting a family at home, nor do they know what it’s like to be deployed in a war zone. Maybe you’re struggling to adapt to life after devastating service-related injuries, to either mind or body. You may suddenly be faced with civilians, students, and even professors who make unintentionally offensive comments about war, current events, or soldiers as you sit there, with a history no one knows.
The good news is that student veterans are not truly alone; according to the VA, there are more than 850,000 people using the GI Bill in 2016. The challenge is to find a way to connect to other veterans who have gone through the same experience and found success. A simple but immensely important program called PAVE – Peer Advisors for Veteran Education – is addressing just this need by connecting new student veterans with trained peer advisors who themselves are military veterans and have successfully navigated the transition.
Created through a partnership between the University of Michigan Health System and Student Veterans of America, PAVE was originally instituted in 12 universities. As of 2016, they have expanded to 42 total partner campuses across the nation. The free and confidential program pairs an incoming student veteran with a trained “Peer Advisor” on campus to help them navigate college life, identify challenges they face, refer them to appropriate resources on or off campus, and provide ongoing support toward their academic and personal goals.
PAVE collaborates with on-campus “Veteran Service Coordinators” to recruit and train student veterans who have successfully transitioned from military to academia. PAVE tailors its program model for each campus according to the specific needs and culture of that campus. Peer Advisors are trained to help a veteran work through issues ranging from financial aid, educational goals or challenges, substance abuse to legal, medical, or job issues.
The program also recently announced a new official initiative with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as one of its strategic partners, a relationship that promises to optimize VA outreach efforts on campuses and provide as many avenues of support for student veterans as possible. Organizers hope this will also serve as an opportunity to collaboratively address gaps in services and increase awareness of and access to VA resources.
Teamwork was an invaluable tool during military service, as well as having brothers and sisters in arms that you could trust completely. PAVE continues to offer this same approach to veterans as they begin the next chapter of their lives, and shows them that they can and will be successful thanks to a dedicated network of people who have been in their shoes.
Written By Megan Hammons