The Office of Military and Veterans Academic Excellence, located on the sixth floor of the Student Center, is where the academic and personal success of student veterans, service members and qualified dependents can be found during the school day.
“It's now required that United States institutions allow college applicants to self-disclose whether or not they are a service member or dependent, which allows us to reach out and offer targeting support services,” said Matt McLain, the director of the OMVAE.
McLain and the rest of the academic advisors and professional support systems at OMVAE take the required steps to report the veterans’ G.I. benefits. But unlike most U.S. institutions, McLain said he believes WSU goes “above and beyond” this expanded version of financial aid by providing support services, like a Holistic Review Admissions Process and a resource center.
When he was a student member, Pat Hannah said he helped relaunch the Student Veterans Resource Center before getting hired by the university as the center’s manager when he graduated.
“The men and women who join the military fundamentally change because they become a part of something larger than themselves,” said Hannah, who served non-combat for the Marines in the 1980s. “Their individuality is gone, and when you add combat, coming back to the civilian community can be extremely difficult.”
Hannah said he assumed the free-printing computer lab and quiet study spaces were going to be the “golden eagle” of the center. However, he said the day room, which mirrors the recreational room, and similar vet-to-vet mentoring services customary on all U.S. military bases, were the most popular.
Jennifer Ratliff started attending WSU in the winter 2015 semester after touring Afghanistan and being stationed at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. She said she Google searched universities with the best veteran student services, and applied to WSU.
"I originally was looking for different colleges and universities where I lived," the criminal justice major said. "From that, I compared the different veterans' resources and Wayne State ended up being the best one in the area."
OMVAE has worked with various university departments, including the Undergraduate Admissions Office, CAPS and Student Disability Services, to hold private, bi-annual Veterans Affairs Committee meetings to improve veteran services and experiences.
The Warrior Reboot, a one-week study extravaganza for incoming student veteran freshmen, is designed to prepare students for the math and English writing placement exams by pairing them with tutors. Both McLain and Hannah have said how important the program is to students.
"The benefits these veterans get are limited,” said Hannah. “So, if they spend a lot of their benefits taking remedial classes, they may not have enough money at the other end to get to graduation.”
McClain said military personnel build a mentality to not “appear to be less than what you're fully capable of.”
He said it’s common not to admit to injury when in service because it limits their participation. Pat also said the never-surrender mentality always remains, which makes it harder for veterans to ask for help.
Hannah said an example of this mentality is when tired students stand in the back of the room to stay awake rather than putting their head down or napping.
“This is because in combat, if you fall asleep, then you're not going to get the information,” said Hannah. “And if you don't have the information, then somebody can die.”
Working closely with the center, Ratliff said she loves how she can reach out and help other veterans in the group with their struggles, both inside and out of the classroom.
"When I first went to college out in California, I really didn't have that home and didn't have someone who could really guide me through the whole transition from military to civilian life," she said. "So, I really take my position with the center seriously."
Both Hannah and McLain said the veterans, although with unique challenges, are WSU students first and foremost. They said the center emphasizes finishing their degrees no matter how long it may take them.
“I try to go to as many graduations as I can,” Hannah said. “It's just fulfilling to see them come here and work so hard, especially the ones who do have those challenges, to walk across that stage.”