New UNK Organization Helps Returning Veterans

Nathan Garst
vice president, Collegiate Veterans Organization University of Nebraska at Kearney 308.865.8649

Military veterans face unique challenges when starting a university education.  

Acceptance by fellow students is not always universal.  The casual campus life can create an initial culture shock to people used to a more formal atmosphere.  Combat veterans may suffer from forms of post-traumatic syndrome.

Helping veterans make a successful transition is the mission of a new student organization, the Collegiate Veterans Organization of University of Nebraska at Kearney.  Started last spring, the organization seeks to provide information resources in housing and finance, raise awareness of veteran-related issues on campus, and be a place to provide the camaraderie that came with being part of a military team.

Nathan Garst, vice president of the organization, is a veteran and student himself, and advises veterans from his desk in the Student Affairs Building.  He said that there are between 85 and 125 UNK students with current or prior military service.  Their educational interests span the UNK course catalog.

So far, most of the group’s work involves the bread and butter issues of starting and staying in school.  Garst most often answers questions about various loans and scholarships available to veterans and assists in paperwork issues.  As many veterans have started families, their housing issues are different from those of students coming out of high school.

Unlike the post-Vietnam War years when a military connection was an anathema on campus, today’s vets are making it a priority to visibly participate in campus events to help the larger campus population understand and accept the veterans, Garst said.  

To help put a human face on former and current military personnel, the group sponsors community projects related to Veterans’ Day and sponsored a homecoming parade float.  The UNK athletic department recently donated a number of home football tickets to the group to be distributed to Kearney military veterans as a way of getting them involved in university events.

Sometimes, Garst serves as a sounding board for his fellow veterans who need to talk to a person who has a similar background.  Most discussions are designed to relive days of shared experiences.

Garst said the young organization will increasingly become more visible with projects and speakers.  The group is negotiating with a specialist on post-traumatic syndrome to speak on campus.  It is also talking with the Marine Corps Reserve to place Toys For Tots boxes on campus.  The group is looking at ways to endow a memorial scholarship to benefit the children of soldiers who have died in battle.