Student veterans find help, home at Ball State

Between making it to classes and studying for tests, student veterans at Ball State take on a unique set of challenges already.

Adding a case of post-traumatic stress disorder or basic anxiety can affect a student's chances of graduation, said Beck Hannaford, Ball State coordinator of veteran benefits.

"It's very secretive," Hannaford said. "You seldom have an individual coming in saying, ‘Hey I've been diagnosed with PTSD. I want to get some help before I even get started.' My experience is many people with PTSD cannot graduate from Ball State."

Hannaford said he has seen soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD having trouble adjusting to being a college student, and many times the soldiers have problems that aren't dealt with appropriately by the military.

"They say, ‘Aw, come on, man up,'" Hannaford said. "That's the phrase. ‘Man up, get through this.'"

April Krowel, a Ball State graduate student who served for four months as an Army cook in Iraq, is studying to counsel soldiers returning from battle who suffer from PTSD. She said the military culture doesn't do a good job encouraging those who develop disorders to seek help.

"Often when you get back and say, ‘Hey, I think I have some mental health issues.' There is so much wrong with the military," Krowel said, "because they'll kick you out or you'll be made fun of to the point that you might not go in for counseling. If you see a counselor, they're obligated to a certain extent to tell your commanding officers. Nothing is really confidential in the Army."

After returning from her tour in Iraq, Krowel said she knew she wanted to spend her life helping other veterans.

"I known a lot of veterans who have PTSD," she said. "I'm not quite sure if they have diagnosable PTSD, but a couple of friends had killed themselves after coming back. I'm not sure if they had PTSD or what the situation was but I really want to help veterans with it. There's just not enough done."

Luckily for Krowel and her husband, Justin, who served for eight months in Iraq as a military police officer and is currently studying sociology at Ball State, neither of them returned with the symptoms of PTSD.

Hannaford said Ball State is recognized nationally as one of the most student-veteran friendly universities in the country, and statistics agree.

"We have almost 400 veterans here today. That's the incredible thing. That's up from 212 just two years ago," Hannaford said. "This summer the campus GPA was 3.18 and the veteran GPA was 3.19, so we think they're virtually the same."

Jay Brown, who returned from deployment in Afghanistan in March 2009 and started studying at Ball State for a master's in August of that year, said the way Ball State treats its student veterans makes it a lot easier to make the transition from soldier to student.

"You need to have a support network, and that's what Beck Hannaford does an amazing job at, making sure people are keyed in," Brown said. "[The Veteran Benefits Department] have the tools they need. They just do a phenomenal job."


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

* Approximately 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older, or about 3.5 percent of people in this age group, have PTSD.

* PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood, but research shows that the median age of onset is 23 years.

* About 19 percent of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD at some point after the war. The disorder also frequently occurs after violent personal assaults such as rape, muggings or domestic violence; terrorism; natural or human-caused disasters; and accidents.

Source: National Institute for Mental Health


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