Veterans torn on benefits
Although some veterans are willing to share their stories, others walk across the UH campus unidentified and are treated like any other student.
Engineering sophomore Anthony Martinez served two tours in Iraq as an U.S. Army infantrymen. His main roles were either as a radiotelephone operator or vehicle gunner. He enlisted on March 19, 2003, a day before U.S. troops were deployed to Iraq. Like many soldiers, he said there were pros and cons to serving his country.
“It wasn’t the best time of my life. I certainly learned a lot of lessons that are valuable to have as a civilian, but a lot of times I had lots of people trying to kill me,” Martinez said. “There were ups, and there were downs.”
Martinez said the reaction of his classmates usually results in their curiosity about his time in the Army. He says serving was worthwhile and that he has no issue taking advantage of benefits the military offers.
“I work the veteran angle. I don’t think that there’s any shame in that,” Martinez said. “I definitely earned the stripes to call myself a veteran, and if there are any perks associated with that, I’ll take them.”
The Office of Institutional Research reports there were 792 veterans enrolled at UH in Fall 2009. Of the student veterans, 661 were male and 131 were female. One hundred former veterans are enrolled in a master’s program, while 14 are seeking doctorates.
Director of UH Veteran Services Al Grundy said the number is closer to 1500, because the statistics are based on veterans who identify themselves. Hundreds of veterans choose not to report at the Veteran Services Offices and miss out on benefits other students are not eligible for.
Journalism senior Travis Masterson, who served in the Army airborne infantryman in Iraq, called UH’s handling of veterans affairs “useless.”
“I prefer to take care of myself, but I have been told that I can get help from the center for disabled students, or the vet center. But in my experience with them, they were pretty much useless,” Masterson said. “Individual professors seem to be inclined to help veterans, but I have not been extremely happy with the University itself. When I tried to get their help, they did not seem to care that I was a veteran.”
Masterson said his fellow students also ask questions, but he pointed out that not all veterans are comfortable with this practice.
“Those of us who have seen real combat tend to want to be left alone about it,” Masterson said. “We would prefer to be treated like any other student.”
Business junior Courtney Maloy spent five months in Balad, Iraq with the Air Force, working as a television maintenance technician. She went from base to base providing cable television and radio access to troops.
She said giving people an opportunity to engage in their favorite media gave her a sense of satisfaction.
“It was really a great experience. Morale, welfare and recreation are three of the most important things in a combat environment. People need to be able to escape and do things that are normal,” Maloy said. “My mission to bring TV and radio to deployed soldiers in the evening to wind down and relax like they were at home was very fulfilling.”
Maloy said she remembers her service as a pleasant experience, but many students don’t realize that she was in the Air Force.
“Other students don’t know you’re a veteran until it comes up in conversation, if it does at all,” Maloy said. “It’s come up a handful of times, and my peers think it’s pretty neat. It always makes me feel good, and I return the smile.”