A group called Task Force Hoosier, which was created to help address issues IU veteran and military students face, is having its first meeting Friday. Veteran and military students account for 506 students as of this spring, according to Director of Veterans Support Services John Summerlot.
Being a veteran student comes with many unforeseen challenges, Summerlot said.
“I refer to my job as putting square pegs into round holes,” he said.
Task Force Hoosier will work to address student veteran issues such as veteran housing and child-care that have been identified by surveys and conversations with administrators.
Summerlot said people on the force will divide up and work on ways to solve these issues. The first meeting for the force will be 9 a.m. Friday in Memorial Hall and is open to anyone.
Task Force Hoosier is one part of Operation Hoosier Promise, a three-year initiative made to recruit and retain veteran and military students at IU.
At the meeting there will be a presentation about the current state of veterans at IU, a discussion of work that has already started to help veterans and a brainstorming session for more issues that may not be on the Operation Hoosier Promise list.
“The task force doesn’t necessarily know what the answers will look like, but how do we plan for those things the veterans see as speed bumps?” Summerlot said.
In addition to making Task Force Hoosier, Summerlot said he and others involved in Operation Hoosier Promise have already started working on a veteran housing program and updating the military leave of absence policy.
Undergraduate IU veteran students graduate at a much higher rate than other nontraditional students but not as high as traditional students, Summerlot said.
Most semesters the graduation rate for veteran students is about eight percentage points behind the university average.
Summerlot said he hopes working to fix these issues will help bridge this gap.
Student, staff and administrators have already joined the force.
One of those students is 24-year-old sophomore Esteban Camacho. Since he is the president of the IU chapter of Student Veterans of America, he will be working on the task force. He served in the Marines for a little more than five years and is now a Kelley School of Business finance major.
Camacho said some of the issues the task force hopes to address stood out to him because they were difficulties he personally faced.
He had issues with his financial aid because he didn’t understand what military forms were needed to get his correct funding. He finally went to the Center for Veteran and Military Students to get his questions answered, but not until a couple months into his first year.
Also, whenever he would go to see his advisor, he would then go to the Center for Veteran and Military Students to make sure everything his advisor suggested lined up with his benefits. He said this is complicated and hopes the force can work to streamline the process.
Summerlot wants to set up a liaison between veterans and different sectors of the university such as admissions, financial aid and housing, so when veterans have a question about a specific IU area, they will know who to go to.
“I was so lost applying for college,” Camacho said. “Whatever I could Google and find out I was like ‘OK, this could either be right or it’s going to be wrong.’”
He said he is excited to get started with the task force and thinks it’s the right way to go about beginning to fix these issues and others.
IU Office of Admissions senior associate director Larry Gonzalez will be on the task force to act as an admissions specialist. He said he hopes through the work of the task force, the university will see an increase in applications, acceptance, enrollment and graduation of veteran students.
“IU works to be committed to them just as they were committed to serving our country,” he said.
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