Marine Corps Sgt. Jeff Wyatt enrolled at CSUN ready to leave his life in the military behind.
‘It was refreshing actually thinking I could have my life back,’ said Wyatt, a 25-year-old Northridge resident.
After spending four years in active duty, two years overseas and one year in Arizona, Wyatt spent one-and-a-half years as a college student before being called to serve once more.
‘It was horrible. I thought that this part of my life was over,’ Wyatt said about returning to the Armed Services.
Though Wyatt found his time in civilian life to be refreshing, many young veterans struggle to transition back into a standard-living routine.
Dr. Tony Johnson, a University Counseling Services staff psychologist, said that young veterans returning to college must, ‘readjust to a life that they have put behind them.’
To aid in that adjustment, University Counseling Services oversees the CSUN’s Servicemen’s/Women’s Opportunity Project (SOP).
The SOP program was created for enrolled CSUN students who have been members of the Armed Services. The program includes academic and mental health support groups as well as individual and couples counseling.
Even with Wyatt’s smooth transition back into civilian life there were a few things he observed that separated him from other CSUN students.
‘I liked (CSUN) but I was 24, 25 at the time and I was starting off at the beginning,’ Wyatt said.
Some of the classes he was required to take were too simple, said Wyatt, and the younger students around him were unaware of what prevented him from starting college earlier in life.
‘Some vets will be more uncomfortable with college life,’ said Johnson, who explained that colleges are often seen as anti-war.
Dr. Carol Tanenbaum of The Soldiers Project, a non-profit that provides free and confidential support to military servicemen/women and their families, also acknowledged the difficulties of transitioning into an academic setting.
‘Veterans may feel very out-of-step with their classmates who haven’t been to war,’ said Tanenbaum.
She added that student veterans may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The National Center for PTSD defines PTSD as the upsetting memories, trouble sleeping, jumpiness and lack of interest in things once enjoyed resulting from trauma or a life-threatening event.
‘Many service people come home feeling as though they are not in a safe world,’ Tanenbaum said.
She added that this can result in a veteran being on constant hyper-alert and issues being in crowds and/or focusing may emerge.
Though these issues are frequent among veterans, Tanenbaum said, ‘Many vets come home very serious about getting an education.’
‘There are hidden wounds of war,’ she added. ‘A person doesn’t have to be hurt physically to be hurt mentally.’
The Army reported that it had 128 confirmed suicides in 2008 compared to 115 in 2007. With the suicide rate steadily increasing, organizations are finding multiple ways to reach out to servicemen/women.
Tanenbaum said that various schools have an office of veterans affairs to point veterans in need of medical assistance in the right direction.
Phyllis Gilson, CSUN’s veterans coordinator, declined to comment on the services provided by the office.
Daniel Spencer, a global war of terrorism medal recipient and outreach specialist for the Sepulveda Vet Center, said that the center works directly with Veterans Affairs professionals like Gilson to locate student veterans in need of help.
Spencer, a veteran who completed two tours in Iraq, said that when servicemen/women come face to face with another veteran they realize that what they are going through is completely normal.
‘I was a CSUN student for two years,’ Spencer said. ‘I know the campus pretty well. It’s not always the easiest thing to do to ask for help.’
He said they should know that the Sepulveda Vet Center is two miles from CSUN with people ready and willing to assist veterans with a variety of issues they may be facing.
Wyatt, now stationed in North Carolina, isn’t thinking about the services that will be available to him upon his return, but rather the simple luxuries associated with home.
‘I miss my queen-sized bed, not waking up at 5:30 in the morning, having my own room,’ he said. ‘I miss my privacy.’