Helping student veterans feel comfortable on campus

For the 450 to 500 UIC students who are veterans, military experience colors their life on campus.

This can affect an activity as simple as walking to class, said Tyler Mason, president of the UIC Student Veterans Association, last Wednesday in a session at the Daley Library.

Deployed with the Army in Iraq in 2007-2008, Mason learned to be wary of suicide bombers.

“You try to keep the population away from you,” he said. Back home, “you still have that survival instinct, so when walking to classes you may avoid crowds.”

Mason was joined by Holly Passi, a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy for veterans, in a presentation entitled “Returning Veterans on Campus: A Primer.”

Military culture is mission-focused, he noted. On campus, that structure is missing, along with a sense of loyalty and self-sacrifice.

“A lot of veterans may feel isolated — it’s instilled in them to be part of a group,” Mason said.

“So if they’re not getting along well, we suggest that they join a campus activity.”

Military veterans may face challenges like reintegration into family life, difficulty making decisions, boredom and irritation, and feelings of isolation brought on by loss of identity, purpose, camaraderie and esprit de corps, he said.

About 20 percent of veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, Passi said.

“Being in harm’s way stays with you,” she said. “It impacts a primitive part of your brain. Your body goes into fight-or-flight mode.”

Talking about PTSD is helpful and there are other effective treatments, Passi said. “People can become symptom-free.”

Experiencing trauma can have a plus side.

“People can come away with an increased appreciation for what’s important in life,” she said.

For more information on campus services for student military veterans, visit UIC Student Veteran Affairs, 3030 Student Services Building, 312-996-4857 or 

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