By Melissa Ponton
The Veteran Students United (VSU) office hosted a week of events from Nov. 5-9 in celebration of Veterans Day on Nov. 11. These events included a 22 pushup challenge, a flag raising ceremony and a medal of honor obstacle course challenge. Post has more than 50 veteran students. and VSU serves as a center of information and support for them.
Michele O’Brien is the vice president and treasurer of VSU and has worked there since 2014. O’Brien is a coast guard veteran and knows of struggles veterans may face in their return to civilian life. “I loved my military time, I really, really did,” she said. ‘I had wonderful things come out of it, but my transition out was a difficult transition.”
Many veterans struggle to changeover to civilian life, O’Brien said. “You get dressed, you wear the same uniform, you do the same thing you know every day. When we get out of the military, we’re not wearing the uniform any- more, what do we do?” she said.
The 22 pushup challenge raised awareness about mental health struggles veterans face daily. Everyday 22 veterans commit suicide, and members of VSU want to end the stigma associated with mental health in society. “I had some anxiety and depression issues after I got out,” O’Brien said. “I had a hard time transitioning. I went to the Northport VA; I got some mental health [treatment], and I think that needs to be addressed.”
VSU serves as a safe space and a place for veterans to receive support and speak to someone if they’re having issues. Due to a lack of information about veteran educational benefits and resources that they’re entitled to, VSU works to inform veteran students about the various resources they often never told about.
O’Brien compared the transition from military to civilian life with the transition from high school to college. “Even though our scars are on the inside with some of the things we have seen, the transition of you leaving high school and the transition of us leaving the military is still really scary,” she said. “It’s what you’ve known for so many years.”
Maria Salazar is president of the VSU and is a veteran of the Marine Corp. She is an art therapy major and wants the office to serve as a place for veterans to integrate into the student body. “I think it [VSU] gives veterans a place to find like-minded people; a place where you can come hang out and put your backpack down,” she said.
Salazar had her own struggles returning to civilian life. “When I first came here, the age difference is a big factor in how you relate to students,” she said. “This office gives [veterans] the opportunity to hang out with people in their age group.”
This semester, the members of VSU hope to collaborate more with the student body. “I would really like the students to combine with us at our events,” O’Brien said. The events throughout the week of Veteran’s Day served as a way to begin this collaboration, and to inform students about some of the issues that the veteran population faces.
VSU meets every Thursday during common hour in Hillwood Commons room 206. Students can follow their Instagram account at @liupost_vsu.