At ease: Military veterans find new life at Linfield

Elizabeth Stoeger and Elin Johnson

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More than 5 million post-9/11 service members are expected to transition out of the military by 2020, according to the American Council on Education. While some of these veterans will enroll in an institution of higher education, even fewer will graduate from that institution.

Many veterans who enroll in either community colleges or four-year institutions are not able to overcome the mental and emotional challenges to make it to graduation. While there are people and programs in place at Linfield to help veterans break down these barriers, they still face challenges that Linfield is not addressing.

“Ultimately you just deal with heavy, daunting mental barriers,” said Navy veteran Loren Brown, ’19.

“I feel very appreciative but also out of place because my experiences in the military and in life ha[ve] caused it to be much more eye opening to your own self awareness.”

The Post-9/11 Veterans’ Educational Assistance Act of 2008, the latest iteration of the GI Bill first passed in 1944, is estimated to benefit about 800,000 people and cost about $12 billion, according to the

Department of Veteran Affairs’ congressional budget submission for 2018.

“The benefits have been intended, at various times, to compensate for compulsory service, encourage voluntary service, prevent unemployment, provide equitable benefits to all who served, and promote military retention,” the Congressional Research Service says.

While there has been a wealth of quantitative data detailing the GI Bill and who is using what resources, there is less information available on the success of the veterans who do enroll in college.

The abrupt change in lifestyle from the military to a college or university is shocking for many veterans. The sudden lack of brotherhood Brown experienced in the Navy was particularly hard for him to overcome. Serving in the military creates strong bonds between the men and women who live and work alongside each other and the loss of these bonds can be challenging.

Wilson Sherman-Burton, a junior mass communication major who served for four years in the Marines, identified with this feeling of loss.

“There is certainly an adjustment from military life to college student,” Sherman-Burton said. “You live, work, and go out with all of your best friends when you are in [the military]. You are almost never alone. Leaving behind those guys who became family is pretty difficult.”

There is not an active community on campus where veterans feel they can congregate, so they generally do not feel a sense of community.

Because of this, Sherman-Burton said he is “not very active on campus besides going to class but I’ve never had a problem here and all the teachers and students have been great.”

However, Cason Cunningham, a junior history major who served in the military for four years, did find a supportive community at Linfield through his participation in baseball.

After Linfield, Cunningham wants to be a high school history or social studies teacher and baseball coach. Sherman-Burton would like to go back into the military as an officer or serve as a police officer or firefighter and Brown would like to find a career that would allow him to find and share new programs that bring awareness of new perspectives and cultures.

“It has been very smooth. Everyone at Linfield has been very helpful and made the transition as smooth as possible,” Cunningham said.
Tara Kleinberg, student accounts manager, is responsible for a portion of this transition. She works with the third-party vendors that pay for veterans to attend Linfield, like the government, state offices, and healthcare systems like Kaiser and Legacy.

“I care deeply for these students and they have a special place in my heart. I am quite passionate about serving them with everything that I can,” Kleinberg said. “I feel it is important to always go above and beyond for these students and try to help them wherever I am able to.”

Kleinberg comes from a military family, which has strengthened her commitment to veteran students.

“I spend a lot of time just talking with some of the veterans, as over the years I have found they just want to be heard sometimes. It may not be my job, but in my position I often have to mentor, and this is essential to a veteran’s success to take the time when they need it,” Kleinberg said.

Norina Coffelt, academic records specialist and VA certifying official, is another resource for veterans on campus. Because Linfield is a Yellow Ribbon school, both Kleinberg and Coffelt help run the program.

Being part of the Yellow Ribbon Program means that for veterans, “all resident tuition and fees for a public school [and] the lower of the actual tuition and fees or the national maximum per academic year for a private school” is paid for, says the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Coffelt ensures that the data going to the VA is correct, which in turn determines the subsidy that Linfield is paid.

Coffelt is another resource for the veterans at Linfield. She ensures they are able to navigate their way around and make the most of their time in college. She said that while she is willing to help any veteran on campus, the school is too small for there to be a lot of options in regard to assistance programs.

The number of veterans at Linfield has risen over the years but slowly and not substantially. During the 2013 to 2014 academic year, there were 24 veterans and the most recent academic year, there were 32, according to Jennifer Ballard, director of institutional research.

These numbers include both veterans and those who are dependents of veterans and all those enrolled in any Linfield program, including the McMinnville campus, the School of Nursing, and the Online and Continuing Education program.

Brown feels that there are not enough resources for veterans pursuing a secondary education.

The problem is that Linfield does not employ the right people to draw in veterans because not many of them are willing to be open to continuing their education due to past experiences. But talking to another veteran about college might make the difference, Brown said. He recommends that Linfield have veterans recruit other veterans.

Brown said Linfield has supported him throughout his educational journey and “has a unique personal touch [for] its students thereby offering unique resources such as internships, scholarships and grants.”

He has also been able to address issues facing veterans while studying at Linfield.

Veterans at Linfield do struggle but, with the help of Kleinberg, Coffelt and other staff and professors, they also benefit from a small college.

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At ease: Military veterans find new life at Linfield