Students with military and civilian backgrounds mingled in room C211 during the Veteran Spring Social on May 1. The event, hosted by the Bellevue College Association of Veterans, provided an opportunity for veterans to share their stories and connect with other students.
The Veteran Spring Social started at 1:30 p.m., and C211 welcomed students from many backgrounds. Veterans of the different branches of service and students who had never served filled the tables in the room, sharing snacks and conversation. Civilians gained valuable perspective of life in the military, but the real winners were the veterans themselves.
Veterans are a small but important part of Bellevue College’s population. The Bellevue College Association of Veterans provides support to over 300 veterans who are enrolled at BC. The BCAV held the Veteran Spring Social in an attempt to “bridge the gap between student veterans and non-veteran students,” as stated on their event’s calendar.
The military dominated the conversation. Stories about bad subordinates or leadership flowed into tales of on-duty shenanigans while airmen and soldiers compared job descriptions. The atmosphere was relaxed and inviting, as each veteran slid into the comfort of belonging and began to reminisce with those who could truly understand themselves. Younger students and some BC staff came in to ask questions about military life and learn what it meant to wear the uniform.
“I think it’s important for non-veterans and veterans to meet in a place and have conversations and get to know one another,” said James Randall, who is a veteran and the BCAV program coordinator. Randall and the rest of the BCAV ensured that veterans on campus have assistance with adjusting to college stressors and accessing the benefits of their military service.
It is critical that veterans have access to resources such as the BCAV and veteran-based events on campus. Veterans are an at-risk population in many categories, such as homelessness and suicide. The Veterans Association National Suicide Data Report, published in 2016, states that suicide rates for veterans are 1.5 times that of the national average. Because of the many pitfalls that veterans are susceptible to, BC has a wide-range of support for its veterans.
The BCAV offers more than just social events to veterans. Veterans can receive support through their Peace Education Program, which is designed to assist veterans with their emotional and mental well-being. PEP focuses on helping veterans find inner peace instead of systematic peace. Many veterans can feel lost without the structure of the military, and PEP helps them find a personal source of strength.
There are several aid programs that veterans can take advantage of at BC. The BCAV is fully equipped to help with the myriad issues veterans face at colleges. They can assist with financial aid, credit transfers and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, especially in regards to ensuring that class requirements are met to receive full benefit assistance.
Randall felt that the Veteran Spring Social had a great turnout, partially because it is more social than other events by nature. Other veterans seemed to uphold that idea.
Jerry Matson, an Army veteran, came to the social specifically to meet others like himself. “It is one thing to make friends and stuff, but it’s a different thing when you meet another vet. It’s almost like an instant rapport you have with them.” The military nurtures a strong bond within its members, and many veterans continue to feel the effects of that bond long after leaving service. The BCAV holds events to allow veterans to more easily meet other people who know what it means to be a veteran.
BCAV’s Spring Veteran Social was a good time for veterans and non-veterans alike. The event offered veterans a chance to meet up with other veterans while giving those who haven’t served insight into life in the Armed F
orces. Bellevue’s efforts to support its veterans, like Matson, do not go unnoticed. “I definitely can say I’m, at a very minimum, taken care of well on a bad day.”
Photo by Eliot Gentiluomo, The Watchdog