They’re often in their mid or late twenties and sometimes have a spouse and kids. Thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill, hundreds of thousands of veterans who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan are attending college after returning from war. Kojo chats with veterans who are navigating the sometimes bumpy path from battlefield to classroom.


  • Brian Hawthorne Masters student at George Washington University, Board Member of Student Veterans of America, Iraq war veteran and member of U.S. Army Reserve
  • Andrew Pedry Undergraduate student at George Mason University; Iraq war veteran (U.S. Marine Corps)


  • 12:06:47

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Being a freshman in college often involves some jitters about living away from home for the first time, excitement about your new-found independence and the camaraderie of a freshman dorm. But what if you arrive on campus as a 26-year-old army veteran who has served two tours of duty in Iraq?

  • 12:07:20

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIYour jitters may involve facing students and faculty who don't support the war, dealing with the lingering trauma of combat and deciding whether to tell your classmates you're a vet or not. Thousands of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are heading to college on the post-9/11 GI Bill. But some are finding the transition from combat to classroom a bumpy one. Joining me to talk about what it's like to be a vet on campus today and how universities can make the experience better or worse, in studio, Brian Hawthorne.

  • 12:07:53

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe is an Iraq War veteran and member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He has a -- he's a master's degree student at George Washington University, a member of the board of directors of Student Veterans of America and a consultant for the Department of Defense. Brian Hawthorne, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:08:10

    MR. BRIAN HAWTHORNEGlad to be here, Kojo. Thank you.

  • 12:08:11

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Andrew Pedry. He is an Iraq War veteran, a former Marine. He's an undergraduate student at George Mason University. He works part-time in the Office of Military Services at George Mason. Andrew Pedry, thank you, too, for joining us.

  • 12:08:27

    MR. ANDREW PEDRYMy pleasure, sir.

  • 12:08:28

    NNAMDIYou can join this conversation, 800-433-8850, 800-433-8850. Did you go to college on the GI Bill? What was your experience like? You can also send email to You can go to our website, Join the conversation there, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Brian, tell us about your time in the army. You spent two tours of duty in Iraq, and you continue to serve as a jumpmaster and Civil Affairs' team sergeant in the Army Reserves. When were you in Iraq, and what did you do there?

  • 12:09:01

    HAWTHORNEWell, I enlisted in 2003, fresh out of high school, actually, before my high school graduation. And then I went on my first deployment to Mosul in northern Iraq in 2005, came home in 2006 and moved to D.C., then went right back as part of the surge into Baghdad, 2007 till 2008.

  • 12:09:25

    NNAMDIYou got home in 2008. You began at GW in August of the same year, graduated in 2010.

  • 12:09:32

    HAWTHORNEMm hmm.

  • 12:09:32

    NNAMDINow, you're a master's student there. You are now a 26-year-old student in that master's program at GW. Having finished your undergraduate degree there last spring, why did you choose GW, and what are you studying?

  • 12:09:45

    HAWTHORNEWell, I'm currently studying my master's in political management. And I chose GW 'cause I wanted to be in D.C. My sister was actually here at AU. And I like D.C., and I had moved down here after my first tour. And it seemed like a natural extension of what I was already doing, having served. And I wanted to keep going, and so I applied. And I got my admissions acceptance about two weeks before I left for Baghdad. So that was a...

  • 12:10:11

    NNAMDIWell, we'll talk about that, how it complicated matters in a little while.

  • 12:10:14


  • 12:10:14

    NNAMDIThis is a good time to study political management, though. What do you hope to do with your degree?

  • 12:10:18

    HAWTHORNEWell, I enjoy working in the defense industry and working on defense policy and veterans policy. So I'm hoping to continue that work.

  • 12:10:27

    NNAMDIWell, here's what happened to you. You applied to GW after your first tour of duty.

  • 12:10:31


  • 12:10:31

    NNAMDIYou got accepted. Then you were called up again by the army. You asked GW to defer your enrollment. But at that time, military service was not accepted as a reason to defer. How was your experience with GW an example of the red tape that a lot of veteran and active duty students have to deal with in college admissions?

  • 12:10:51

    HAWTHORNEWell, it was an interesting time at GW. The post-9/11 GI Bill had not started -- had not been signed into law yet. And so the schools were not yet seeing this large influx of veterans, and so there were not a lot of us. And the school was not ready for a quick turnaround on that. And so I got accepted. I -- and was enrolled in classes. I then had to withdraw from those classes and defer my admission and still got a bill, and...

  • 12:11:20

    NNAMDIBecause they said military deferment, that's -- military service, that's no reason to defer here.

  • 12:11:23

    HAWTHORNESure. So we had to work with the university to kind of catch the policies up to the times. And so, when I did come back in 2008, that was on the top of my list of things to work out. And they did, and they've done a really great job since then.

  • 12:11:37

    NNAMDIOops, sorry, is what they were saying. Andrew, you started college in Montana.

  • 12:11:41

    PEDRYYes, sir.

  • 12:11:42

    NNAMDIThen you left school to join the Marine Corps in 2000, correct?

  • 12:11:45

    PEDRYThat's correct.

  • 12:11:46

    NNAMDIWhy did you join, and what did you do as a Marine?

  • 12:11:49

    PEDRYI joined the Marine Corps, I think, for two primary reasons. One was adventure, the opportunity to do something that one doesn't get to do in the civilian world. And the other was a sense of patriotism, you know, a desire to serve my country as many have before. I spent a lot of time in Europe as a young man, growing up. And I've seen a lot of the battlefields over there, and I think I -- you know, I wanted to contribute to our country.

  • 12:12:15

    NNAMDIBut after you left the Marines, you didn't immediately go to college. You worked for about five years. And after the post-9/11 GI Bill passed, you then used it to enroll at George Mason University. In the meantime, you got married, started a family. You're now a 31-year-old husband, father and senior in college. How and why did you choose George Mason?

  • 12:12:36

    PEDRYWell, it was a long road to George Mason, coming from an infantry background in the Marine Corps. As an infantryman and a sniper and then into the civilian sector and then to school, there have been a lot of changes. But I knew that after having worked in the civilian sector for a while for BAE Systems, was doing logistics, was a good job, but I wanted to do something else. And so I started looking around at colleges when they were revamping the GI Bill.

  • 12:13:06

    PEDRYI was looking for a school that was close enough -- I live in Leesburg. So I needed a school that was relatively nearby that the GI Bill would cover. And George Mason was kind of the fit. So when I chose George Mason initially, it was kind of a matter of convenience, although it turns out to have been a great fit.

  • 12:13:23

    NNAMDIJust because you guys got to the final four in the NCAA basketball tournament, is that why?

  • 12:13:29

    PEDRYNo. I actually don't follow sports much. But I'm studying history and religious studies there with -- I'm hoping to become a historian. And it turns out that Mason has some excellent faculty, some good programs, and it's been a very good experience.

  • 12:13:46

    NNAMDISo you're doing a double major, both history and religious studies?

  • 12:13:48

    PEDRYYes. Correct.

  • 12:13:50

    NNAMDIWhat do you hope to do with those majors, ultimately teach history?

  • 12:13:52

    PEDRYYes, I hope to be a college-level historian, teaching about the early modern period or the Middle Ages.

  • 12:13:59

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're discussing veterans on campus with Andrew Pedry. He's an Iraq war veteran, a former Marine. He's an undergraduate student at George Mason University, where he works part-time in the Office of Military Services. And Brian Hawthorne is also an Iraq war veteran. He's a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He's a master's degree student at George Washington University and a member of the board of directors of Student Veterans of America. He is a consultant for the Department of Defense.

  • 12:14:26

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Are you a college student or a recent grad? Did you have any interaction with veterans on campus? Call us at 800-433-8850. Here is David in Takoma Park, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:43

    DAVIDYes. Kojo, I was calling because I was kind of taken aback with your introduction when you said these guys might be facing students or colleges that don't agree with the war. Most of the people I know, that if they don't agree with the war, they surely support the troops.

  • 12:14:59

    NNAMDIYou know, we had that conversation here last week when we were talking with veterans with disabilities who are active and participating in athletic competition. The difference between the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and veterans of previous wars, in particular the Vietnam War, seems to be how they are treated by citizens when they return. Would you like me to ask Brian and Andrew about that? Or did you have something else to say, David?

  • 12:15:23

    DAVIDYeah, I would. I just -- one comment, I just read that the unemployment rate for these guys coming back, between ages of 18 and 24, is 20 percent. And some of them are marching in Occupy, you know, Wall Street, trying to protest or saying, hey, our country and our citizens need to do something to help these guys. Number two, I'm under contract with the Army. And a lot of people don't realize that we lose more guys from suicide than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

  • 12:15:48

    DAVIDAnd most -- almost everybody supports these guys, and -- but the military industrial complex needs to do more, as far as I'm concerned.

  • 12:15:56

    NNAMDITrying to combat the unemployment rate is presumably one of the reasons that you guys decided to go to college. How do you feel about this, Brian?

  • 12:16:03

    HAWTHORNEWell, it's certainly a challenge, Kojo. And your caller brings up an excellent point in the difference between the previous generations and ours. I mean, I've -- I think, almost overwhelmingly, we've received positive, you know, understanding of our service. I think that the challenge is not so much the support of the conflict as to what the veterans need next.

  • 12:16:25

    HAWTHORNEIt's -- you know, whether or not you agree with what we did do, will do, it's the challenges that -- the unique challenges that veterans face both in the classroom and in the employment sphere that really brings the support for the troops from the bumper sticker to the boardrooms, how I say it. I mean, you have to institute a culture in these institutions to make sure that veterans' needs are addressed and that there's a dialogue.

  • 12:16:50

    HAWTHORNEYou know, we always say, nothing about us without us. We shouldn't have institutions in schools making decisions about supporting veterans or not without a veteran dialogue first.

  • 12:16:59

    NNAMDIWhich is what Student Veterans of America is, in part, all about.

  • 12:17:02

    HAWTHORNEYes, sir.

  • 12:17:03

    NNAMDIYour own comments, Andrew?

  • 12:17:05

    PEDRYYeah, I think that my experience also has shown that whatever people's opinions about the wars are -- and they certainly are mixed -- I've received a great deal of support, you know, from the Mason community and the civilian population at large. And that's been my sense of the reaction to the other veteran students at Mason as well. I...

  • 12:17:25

    NNAMDIGo ahead.

  • 12:17:26

    PEDRYI think that one of the challenges facing veterans when they look to transition into the civilian sector is, in part, translating that military experience, you know, into a language that civilians can understand. And that's particularly challenging, I think, for those guys in combat arms or gals in combat arms related fields where, you know, if you go and you're a mechanic in the military, you know, there is some direct translation.

  • 12:17:50

    PEDRYBut if your job is to, you know, blow things up and shoot at things, it's -- you know, if you don't want to be a police officer, it's hard to then find the way to translate the intangible benefits that you gained about leadership and, you know, dedication and initiative into a fashion that's going to land you a job in this very tough market.

  • 12:18:06

    NNAMDIAnd it seems to me that you learn those skills not only as a result of being in the military but, in your case, the years after the military in which you participated in raising a family. You pick up life skills that may not necessarily translate into exactly what's called for on a campus. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Living in a dorm is part of the quintessential college experience. But for veterans in their mid-20s, maybe with spouses or families, living in a freshman dorm is the last thing you want to do. How well do universities understand veterans' residential needs?

  • 12:18:42

    HAWTHORNEWell, and that was actually one of the first things that we worked with GW on. And it turns out that D.C. has a standings law, or had a standing law, that if you were a undergraduate for the first two years, freshman and sophomore, you must live on campus, which made complete sense until you had gentlemen like us who maybe were a little older than our compadres and did not exactly fit. But the institutions were automatically -- there wasn't even an age question in the application for residency.

  • 12:19:13

    HAWTHORNEThey asked if you were married, which was an exemption. You know, there are some normal exemptions. Military service was not one of them. And so we had to go back to the D.C. City Council, and they did change that, that they put an age cap on that requirement. And, again, this is what he and I were talking about before the show, that most of the veteran student issues are adult learner issues that -- you know, is there child care that's appropriate? Is there health care?

  • 12:19:36

    HAWTHORNEIf you're over the age of 26, we can't stay on our parents' health care. So how do schools adapt to having more adult, mature learners on their campus? And, certainly, the dorms are kind of a humorous one. But if you -- I don't worry about the marine sniper in the freshman dorm. I worry about his...

  • 12:19:53

    HAWTHORNEI worry about his roommate's mother calling the president and saying my roommate's -- my son's roommate killed people, which happens. So it can create a tense environment without that kind of initial policy change that we've been able to execute.

  • 12:20:08

    NNAMDIYou say how -- you talk about how you've been treated since you have returned as veterans. But American college campuses also have a reputation for being liberal and for opposing military conflicts. How do you feel today walking into that environment? Do you get a sense of that on campus at all, Andrew?

  • 12:20:24

    PEDRYYou know, when I first started the university experience after my service in the military, that was one of my big fears, frankly, was walking into this very liberal environment, and I was going to be, you know, a baby killer and all the rest of it. And I hear that from students who come into the Office of Military Services. I was talking to a young man about it just last week who had that same concern. And I told him, you know, I don't get that at all. That fear has never been realized.

  • 12:20:50

    PEDRYI mean, I have certainly had a couple of professors who were talking about, you know, current events and the wars, and they clearly didn't support it. But, one, that was fairly limited, and, two, it never translated into any kind of attack on myself or the service members, you know, who are sacrificing over there. So I think there's a definite, you know, line.

  • 12:21:12

    NNAMDISpeaking of professors, I think we have one on the line, Vincent in Woodbridge, Va. Vincent, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:19

    DR. VINCENT NGHi. Thank you very much for having me on the air. First of all, I would like to thank our veterans for their service to the country, and I have had a couple of veteran students in my class. I teach biology at the Woodbridge Campus of the Northern Virginia Community College. And may I say they are just the best students I've ever had? And they have good work ethics. They have good experience they can share with their students.

  • 12:21:42

    DR. VINCENT NGAnd I would -- if I know that they are veteran students, I would ask them in advance and hope that I can join their experience and hope that they can share the experience with the class, too. So just thanks very much, guys. And if you know anybody who wants to take biology classes in Northern Virginia Community College, feel free to contact me. My name is Vincent -- Dr. Vincent Ng, and we'd love to have you guys in -- on our campus.

  • 12:22:07

    NNAMDIVincent, thank you very much for your call. Brian.

  • 12:22:09

    HAWTHORNEAnd that brings up a really important point, which is training for faculty. Regardless of the faculty's opinion of conflict with the military, I've never met a faculty member who was just, outright, didn't want us in the classrooms.

  • 12:22:22


  • 12:22:22

    HAWTHORNEBut what we find is that they may not know how to bring our experience into the classroom appropriately. And some of that is exactly how your caller described it, which is maybe a heads up ahead of time that, hey, we're going to be talking about something that you may have a particularly useful perspective on. May I call on you and you ask you about it? And it may be, well, you know, I may not want to talk about a particular experience.

  • 12:22:47

    HAWTHORNEI mean, without going through a full bio of everything that we've done, it may be challenging to know what the veteran's opinion or experience with that topic is like. And so that kind of pre-brief with the service member ahead of time is a really effective way to clear that space and hopefully have the veteran prepare for a short presentation. I mean, I'm a medic. I can present in a biology class. I would be glad to talk about trauma or whatever I've seen. But on the spot may not be the most appropriate.

  • 12:23:17

    HAWTHORNEAnd especially for history or politics, you know, if you're the only veteran in the classroom, suddenly you're representing every decision that's ever been made by the Department of Defense ever.

  • 12:23:27

    NNAMDIYeah, I wondered about that if somebody's calling on you to represent every defense that's made. I also found it interesting that Vincent talked about work ethic. That's something that I hadn't thought about before. But having been a veteran, you are now disciplined in way that your average slacker student may not be disciplined.

  • 12:23:43

    HAWTHORNEWe at least dress for class.

  • 12:23:45

    NNAMDII noticed that you dress for radio, too, much better than I do.

  • 12:23:48

    PEDRYI think that that's actually one of the biggest things that veterans bring to the table on a campus. I mean, when we see vets who come into our office, when I see other vets on campus, and I know with myself, typically, once the veteran gets to the university, he's there to get a degree, or she's there to get her degree. You know, I mean, they've had the party time. You know, that's what being a private and PFC was for, right?

  • 12:24:11

    PEDRYSo that itch has been scratched, and they're there to go to school, right? And I think that that's also common with many other older students who are going back to a university. But I think that that's one of the big intangibles that the vets bring, is this kind of focus on the school material at hand.

  • 12:24:29

    HAWTHORNEAnd some of it is really the basis of being an adult learner. You have a family to support.

  • 12:24:33


  • 12:24:33

    HAWTHORNEYour parents are probably not paying your tuition. I mean, you may have joined the military because you could not afford college. And so you're using that as your -- I mean, this is your next mission. This is not something you did because you wanted to do it or everybody in your high school did.

  • 12:24:45


  • 12:24:47

    HAWTHORNEI was the only kid in my high school class that didn't go to college. So you have that kind of -- that drive that, hey, I'm an adult. I have -- there are adult expectations on my economic viability. And I need to keep going. I was taking 22 credits and working overnight. I mean, you have to shorten that timeframe. We can't afford to be, you know, lifetime members of Student Veterans of America.

  • 12:25:10

    HAWTHORNEYeah, we got to move out.

  • 12:25:12

    NNAMDIWe got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation. If you have called, stay on the line. If you haven't yet, the number is 800-433-8850. Do you think universities are doing enough to welcome veterans to campus? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, Ask a question. Make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:27:19

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about veterans on campus. We're talking with Andrew Pedry and Brian Hawthorne. They are both Iraq War veterans. Andrew is a former Marine. He's an undergraduate student at George Mason University. He works part-time in the Office of Military Services at George Mason. And Brian is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He is a master's degree student at GW, George Washington University. He's a member of the board of directors of Student Veterans of America.

  • 12:27:46

    NNAMDIHe's also a consultant for the Department of Defense. I'd like to go directly back to the telephones where Dennis in Upper Marlboro awaits us. Dennis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:57

    DENNISHi. I have a different, I think, interesting situation where I went to graduate school after the Marine Corps. And then, after some time in the early 2000, all of a sudden, every job I wanted to get I had to get a new security clearance for and I couldn't because I was out of the Marine Corps for so long. These laws regarding security clearances only allow you to get a clearance after you've gotten the job. And if you don't have a job, you can't get even an interview to get, you know, either the job or a clearance.

  • 12:28:35

    DENNISSo I wonder if there's any way you folks know to get through that morass and actually get people that are -- smart people, that have graduate degrees in technical fields that have, you know, suspended or lost their clearance because just of time. The question is, how do you get back through into those types of jobs that (unintelligible) ?

  • 12:28:58

    NNAMDIBrian Hawthorne, know anything about that at all?

  • 12:29:00

    HAWTHORNEYeah. It's something that veteran students generally bring to the table above their graduating 21-, 22-year-old peers is either having a current or former clearance that would be significantly easier to reinstate. I know on my resume, I say I have maintained an active clearance for nine years. I mean, that's -- that is a selling point, especially in this area. But the challenges of going back in and digging back those clearances up can be quite arduous.

  • 12:29:29

    HAWTHORNEI mean, I certainly overemphasize it and would recommend other student veterans, overemphasize the ability or having the experience of maintained a clearance for a certain period of time. And hopefully the future employer will see that as an advantage. But your caller is right. You -- it is on the company to decide to pay to reinvestigate that former service member. So it can be a burden.

  • 12:29:55

    NNAMDIAnd as far as we know, there are no shortcuts.

  • 12:29:57


  • 12:29:58

    PEDRYNo. That's just a tough catch-22 right there.

  • 12:30:00

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here is Mia in Washington, D.C. Mia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:08

    MIAHi, Kojo.

  • 12:30:09

    NNAMDIHi, Mia.

  • 12:30:10

    MIAHi. I just wanted to say I teach sculpture at George Mason University. And I've had a lot of students that were veterans or still currently serving in the military. And their work is so interesting. And, yeah, I just wanted to say how much of a pleasure it's been to have them in my class and how much they've added to, you know, the environment of a sculpture studio.

  • 12:30:33

    NNAMDIThank you very much for bringing that up, Mia, because it allows me to ask Andrew something we were talking about during the break, and that is how you are responded to on campus by professors who may be interested in your experiences abroad and somehow are able to mesh that with programs on campus.

  • 12:30:50

    PEDRYYeah. This is, I think, a great story of the way that a school can interact with a veteran. When I first showed up, terrified of the academic experience, in 2009, I was going to my academic advising and mentioned to my adviser that I had a chance to visit Ur in Mesopotamia in this, you know, capacity as a Marine. And he said, oh, you should talk to this other professor, Dr. Burns. He's a specialist in the ancient Near East. And I thought to myself, well, maybe I'll get around at doing that, right?

  • 12:31:18

    PEDRYBut that was pretty intimidating. I got an email about 20 minutes after I left that office from this Dr. Burns saying, would you like to do an independent study in ancient Mesopotamia and religion? And I thought, sure.

  • 12:31:29

    NNAMDII am studying history and religion.

  • 12:31:31

    PEDRYRight? It fit in, and I had a blast, and it was the start of a -- you know, of a great relationship there. But I thought that it really exemplified the way that a school can interact with a veteran. I mean, they took this piece of my experience, which I was clearly interested in, and found a way to mesh it in with, you know, the larger academic environment I was in.

  • 12:31:50

    NNAMDIBrian, do vets tend to be open about their military service on campus? Or do they keep it quiet and just kind of try to blend in?

  • 12:31:56

    HAWTHORNEIt runs the gamut. I think a lot of it depends on their personal experiences and -- either before, during and after the military. Some veterans grow their hair out, don't want to look like veterans. You know, they get rid of the camo backpack, and some don't. I've certainly been outspoken about my experience on campus and have been very willing to share my experiences in the classroom, you know, with a little prodding sometimes. But some student veterans choose not to and don't put it on their resume for fear of discrimination, and there's -- you know, there's some merit to both.

  • 12:32:32

    HAWTHORNEI have found speaking about my experiences to be very profitable and somewhat therapeutic. But other student veterans have been -- have met with resistance and said that, you know, that they didn't feel comfortable speaking about that, and particularly with employers and with admissions officers that if there is a perception that this is going to be a risk candidate, that there is a -- some kind of danger in bringing this candidate on to an interview process, that they would choose to emphasize other parts of their experience, which can be very hard.

  • 12:33:03

    HAWTHORNEIf you spent 10 years in the military, that's probably the bulk of your work experience. And so -- and, obviously, it's a very pivotal one and something, as we talked about before, can be very developmental. So it's really a shame that some of our veterans are not comfortable speaking about their experiences. But, at the same time, that's their choice. And we would not want anybody to feel pressured to speak about an experience, particularly if they have some traumatic experiences behind them, but...

  • 12:33:29

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mia. Here is Ryan in College Park, Md. Hi, Ryan.

  • 12:33:34

    RYANHi, Kojo. How it's going? I'm a big fan of your show. Thanks for having me. I'm a 26-year-old veteran at the University of Maryland currently using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend school. I'm in my second year. And I'd just like to point out that there's a lot of negative ideas that kind of surround the veterans offices in terms of their processing veterans benefits and whatnot. And I personally can only speak from my experiences. But I've never had anything but positive experience with -- experiences with them handling my benefits.

  • 12:34:06

    RYANAnd also, I'd like to point out the -- I don't think people are quite aware of how generous this benefit really is. It's really opened a lot of doors for, I think, a lot of veterans who are attending school. Under the old GI bill, I don't know if anyone has ever crunched the numbers. But it is rather difficult to attend school and pursue other interests. So this benefit, I think, has really opened a lot of doors up for people, including myself. You know, it's provided a little leeway for me to pursue interests that are more related to my own field.

  • 12:34:37

    RYANYou spoke earlier about how skills aren't always translatable from the military to the civilian sector. Well, I think this new benefit is really going to help people in pursuing interests that are -- that do translate well to what they're studying. Thank you.

  • 12:34:52

    NNAMDIRyan, I'm glad you brought that up because, as you pointed out, the Post-9/11 GI Bill opened the door for a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan vets to go to college. But after it took effect in August 2009, some universities were not well prepared to meet the needs of student vets. You can both talk about the work you've done with Student Veterans of America to help make campuses more welcoming to vets, starting with you, Andrew.

  • 12:35:15

    PEDRYOkay. The -- first of all, I'd like to say I was also one of those people who was able to come back to school because of the changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It just -- it made it an economic reality, especially with a wife and, you know, two little kids. I will say that, in 2009, when they did kick-off the GI bill, I was one of those people trying to get in right when the gate opened. And it was a mess. I mean, and I -- my experience has been that most of that has been cleared up since then and that, by and large, the process runs pretty smoothly.

  • 12:35:45

    PEDRYAnd we do get a lot of people that come through our office asking, how do I use these benefits? And for most of them, a leisurely 20-minute conversation about the ins and outs of how this, you know, process works is all it takes. They go from there, and there's no issues. Now, you know, things still happen, issues come up. But it's been a pretty painless experience once the ball has kind of gotten rolling, and things are established.

  • 12:36:09

    HAWTHORNEYeah, it's -- the first few years were...

  • 12:36:13

    HAWTHORNE...challenging. And I was the legislative director of SVA at that time and talking about it on Capitol Hill and with the VA. And the VA, I mean, for the huge task that they had before them, really, they did as best as they could. I mean, we're at above 600,000 student veterans who are now using the benefit and just billions of dollars that are going on to campuses and making this economic growth. I certainly would not be a grad student sitting here without that kind of support.

  • 12:36:41

    HAWTHORNEAnd I think that the schools are really where we have the most development work to be done now. I mean, the VA process is down to around 20 days. I mean, if you decide you want to go, you will almost certainly receive your certificate of eligibility long before you have to show up for classes, if you're ahead of the semester. And even if you apply the day you showed up, probably before the end of the billing cycle, you'll have your money in the school.

  • 12:37:05

    HAWTHORNESo that part of it has been squared away, and the VA has done a great job with their reinvigoration of their systems. But the challenge now is, okay, we have all these veterans. We have all this tuition support. How do the schools support them? And so much of it is custom. I mean, you look at the different populations. GW and George Mason are between 600 and 1,000 student veterans. That's a sizable portion of the population, whereas American University may be around 100, Catholic, 50 to 100.

  • 12:37:34

    HAWTHORNESo the different schools have to look at it differently, and one size does not fit all. But you don't want to lose any of them. I mean, I can pay anyone to go to college with the GI bill. I cannot pay them to graduate. That's on the school, and the school is being paid for them to graduate. And what are they doing with that money? Are they employing people like him to support them? Or are they just kind of saying, well, you can get your degree like everybody else? And some schools have taken that attitude.

  • 12:37:57

    NNAMDIAnd there are some pressures because, thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the accompanying Yellow Ribbon program, a lot of vets can essentially attend college for free. But the reliance on those government funds can create pressures to get through school quickly, and they can delay and derail funding. How does that affect things like registering for classes and summer school?

  • 12:38:22

    PEDRYI mean, my experience has been that most vets want to get through school quickly anyway. And most of them have pretty good idea when they go in about what they want to do. And I'm not sure what the current statistic is the number of times a typical undergrad changes their major, but I suspect that the veteran population is significantly lower. And so while, you know, there's always a little bit of nervousness when big budget talks come up that, you know, are they going to slash our benefits, so far, you know, it's been fairly good news.

  • 12:38:48

    HAWTHORNEYeah, I think one of the challenges, though, is that the student veteran has 36 months of benefits. They have 15 years to use them, so it doesn't have to be -- they don't have to go sequentially. But there is a pressure to get your degree on time. So 36 months of benefits, minus summers, is four years of benefits. So this should pay for an undergraduate program. However, if you're a freshman and you get the kind of bottom of the barrel as far as selection, then your first semester, you may not be able to take any courses for your major.

  • 12:39:18

    HAWTHORNEAnd the VA has a policy that says you must be working on classes that apply to your program. And so this can leave veterans in a bind because, remember, this benefit is tied with a housing allowance. And you must be a full-time student to receive the full housing allowance. So if you're like Andrew and you have a family and you have mortgage to pay or whatever, you're expecting that rate.

  • 12:39:39

    HAWTHORNESo if you have -- if you were only able to get into nine credits and you have to take 12 to get the program, then, now, suddenly you're left without your means of financial support for your family. So it's not just, like, oh, I'll take basket weaving and ride this one out. No, you can't do that. You have to take courses towards your major, and so that could be a challenge. And so we encourage schools to open up early and priority registration, the way they do for athletes and ROTC cadets, to veterans as well, to make sure that our veterans are using their benefits on time at their own pace.

  • 12:40:11

    NNAMDIHere's Kirk in Warrenton, Va. Kirk, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:16

    KIRKYeah. Hi. I guess the topic changed a bit since I called in. But there was something you said -- I mean, you were talking about, much earlier in the program, about the fear about the reaction you would get from professors.

  • 12:40:31

    NNAMDIYeah. I said that American college campuses have a reputation for being liberal and opposing military conflicts.

  • 12:40:37

    KIRKThat's right. I actually teach biology at NOVA, which is Northern Virginia Community College, and I think that that's based -- that idea is really a myth when you talk about the myth of a liberal kind of judgmental, you know, professor, group of professors. Professors are just people. They're just like the rest of the public, and I think you're going to get the same reactions from them as everybody else, which, I think, is overwhelmingly positive. There were a few other things I wanted to mention.

  • 12:41:06

    NNAMDIPlease do.

  • 12:41:07

    KIRKThe other thing that you mentioned earlier was, you know, about vets in the classroom. And I have found that, overwhelmingly, veterans in the classroom tend to be quiet about their being veterans. What I find is, usually, it's something in their behavior, you know, something keys me off that they're military or maybe something they wear. But otherwise, often, it's not broadcast.

  • 12:41:33

    NNAMDIHow do you find veterans as students compared to other non-veteran students?

  • 12:41:39

    KIRKI would say, well, certainly older, and I don't know if it's being a veteran or being older, but maybe a bigger level of maturity.

  • 12:41:50


  • 12:41:52

    KIRKI was just talking to a guy the other day in class who served in Afghanistan in the Army, and he said that the thing that strikes him about coming back is that -- he said a lot of people really sweat and get upset about inconsequential things. You know, he said that, you know, the things that bother people are really kind of minor compared to what he went through, and that was something of note.

  • 12:42:21

    NNAMDIYes. So that allows him to focus a lot better.

  • 12:42:23

    HAWTHORNEYeah. I mean, I think that the transition from high school to college is a somewhat more abrupt transition than from being an adult and then going to college, that you've already had adult expectations on you in the military, show up here with the right uniform, right time, right equipment kind of thing. And so the harder thing I have to do in a day is walk across campus and be less than five minutes late. You know, I'm probably going to be okay. So I definitely agree with that.

  • 12:42:51

    NNAMDIKirk, thank you so much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about veterans on campus. The phone lines look filled. So if you'd like to communicate with us, do so online. Go to our website, Send us email to By the way, are you a Doonesbury fan? Have you been following the strips about vets on campus? Have they opened up your eyes to the sometimes challenging courtship between colleges and veterans? Call us, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:45:14

    NNAMDIWe're having what's turned out to be a fascinating conversation on veterans on campus. We're talking with Brian Hawthorne. He's an Iraq War veteran. He's a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He is a master's degree student at George Washington University and a member of the board of directors of Student Veterans of America. He's also a consultant for the Department of Defense. Also joining us in studio is Andrew Pedry. He is also an Iraq War veteran, a former Marine. He's an undergraduate student at George Mason University.

  • 12:45:40

    NNAMDIAnd he works part-time in the Office of Military Services at George Mason. Before we go back to the phones, can you talk a little bit about some of the mental health issues that veterans on campus have to deal with? Many vets return from combat with some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder or even brain injuries. What's the best way for colleges to assist vets who have mental health issues?

  • 12:46:03

    HAWTHORNESure. I think first of all is awareness of mental health conditions in general, and this is something that America can approve on, in general, that it would be helpful for everyone to know more about depression and TBI and PTSD, just in general. I mean, these are things that affect all of our parts of our population, not just veterans. And I think the second is to be aware of what the VA and the military services are already offering.

  • 12:46:29

    HAWTHORNEI mean, we have billions of dollars being spent to hire fantastic counselors and program managers. And if they're not being utilized, then the burden is -- really comes back to the community. And so to have someone who works in the military services office understand and make sure that they keep up with the changes in these programs and usually expansion of these programs, there's a lot that they can do.

  • 12:46:52

    HAWTHORNEI mean, as I was saying before, it doesn't have to be that you have to have a military psychologist on the roles full-time to handle your population. But an awareness of the veteran culture within your counseling center is less likely to turn away a veteran who seeks help. Seeking help is a big step. And if that -- if you have to sit down and explain what the military is to a psychologist, you're probably not going to go back.

  • 12:47:16

    NNAMDIIn these campuses where vets have the smoothest transition seem to be those that have an office or a staff to help them navigate both the university and the GI bills, policies and procedures, Andrew.

  • 12:47:29

    PEDRYIt doesn't surprise me. I think that, you know, as a fairly tight-knit social group, which veterans, I think, are in general, it's helpful that they can be talking to people who know the language. Like, we were just talking about with the psychologist, if you're talking to a shrink who doesn't know what the military is, you know, and doesn't know what an insurgent is, you're not going to get a connection there.

  • 12:47:50

    PEDRYSimilarly, when you're trying to navigate the ins and outs of this new environment, like any freshman would be, it helps to have other vets who can both identify with you, you know, as a person and a veteran in your experiences and explain what's going on with the university.

  • 12:48:04

    PEDRYAnd what we found, I think, at Office of Military Services is that just having a place where vets know they can come and talk to other people who have been through what they've been through and -- you know, we don't sit down very often and have deep discussions about painful experiences during the war 'cause I think most vets, you know, find ways to deal with it. But part of the dealing with it is just having a peer group that's available, you know, that they can talk about anything with, but they know that people there have shared those experiences.

  • 12:48:33

    PEDRYAnd if there's an administrative question, you know, then we're trained to handle that, too.

  • 12:48:37

    NNAMDICan veterans get college credit for any of the training they've had in the military?

  • 12:48:43

    PEDRYYes and no. The -- if you're in the Air Force, good news, the Air Force has regionally accredited the Community College of the Air Force. And, for example, at George Mason, credits have to be regionally approved to be accepted. So at Mason, as a general rule, the only thing that's going to be accepted are Air Force credits or places like the Defense Language Institute.

  • 12:49:04

    HAWTHORNERight. And the American Council on Education has a kind of recommended amount of credits for most, if not all, military training courses. But that comes down to the decision of that department head to decide if they want...

  • 12:49:18

    PEDRYOr the school.

  • 12:49:18 grant credits. So I got a lot of kind of electives knocked out. But even though I had taken history courses and other things that were somewhat relative to my -- or somewhat related to my degree, I didn't receive credit for all of them. So -- and, again, we lose that kind of intangible leadership. You know, I mean, leadership starts from the day you raise your right hand. I mean, regardless of what your position is, you're learning how to lead. But it's never been, like, awarded a credit from a business school, for example. So you can't go into organizational management two. You still got to start over.

  • 12:49:51

    NNAMDIOn to Robert in Washington, D.C. Robert, your turn.

  • 12:49:55

    ROBERTYeah. Thank you. Can you hear me?

  • 12:49:57

    NNAMDIYes, we can.

  • 12:49:57

    ROBERTAll right. All right. Well, look, I just wanted to say that, I mean, it just seems to me that there's no opinion from the other side. And I just have two questions. Why in the world is it that this Iraq massacre -- it was a massacre. There were 500,000 children that were murdered since 1993 in Iraq, from (unintelligible). Now, why in the world would anyone want to put their kid in a college environment when you've got these guys with post-traumatic stress conditions, and you know they know they can't live with what they did?

  • 12:50:28

    ROBERTWhy -- the question I have for your guests is, why do you think so many veterans are committing suicide? It's because they can't deal with the horrible war crimes they've committed. We've murdered over 10,000 people in Fallujah alone. And I have a question for Kojo Nnamdi. Is NPR simply a government propaganda tool? There is no reason in the world -- you think all -- 5 million people in D.C. protesting that war in 2005. You think people actually agree with this war?

  • 12:50:53

    ROBERTAnd how can you support a veteran when you know what he's done? I mean, all these massacres. If you Google dead Iraqi children...

  • 12:51:00

    NNAMDIRobert. Robert. Robert, I suggest that you are proof that NPR is not a government propaganda operation. After all, you are on the air, speaking your opinion on an NPR-affiliated station. The opinion that you have chosen to offer is an opinion that apparently wants to blame Andrew Pedry and Brian Hawthorne for the policies of one administration or another in a particular war.

  • 12:51:25

    NNAMDIAnd I don't think that they are in the policymaking position, unless there's something I don't know about what they did. But, Brian, thank you very much -- I mean, Robert, thank you very much for offering your opinion. We move on to Anne in Derwood, Md. You don't get a lot of that on campus, do you, people who accuse you of being responsible...

  • 12:51:43


  • 12:51:43

    NNAMDI...for killing babies and for making policy? Here is Anne in Derwood, Md. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:51

    ANNEHi, Kojo. I just wanted to encourage any of the vets here. Your vets sound pretty confident there in the studio. But I've run into vets. I went back to school about five or six years ago to a community college level. And some of the vets there -- you know, they were afraid they couldn't do it. They were scared that they'd been out of school too long or their experiences had somehow made it so that they weren't college material. And I would just like to encourage any veteran who's listening.

  • 12:52:18

    ANNEYou have given yourself in service to this country, and you should take that same confidence and go back to school. A lot of these veterans were amazing in the classroom. They did bring an extra perspective that some of us didn't have. They had seen things in other countries. They knew about other standards of living and other traditions in other parts of the world and were able to--whether it was creative writing class or videography class or even sciences, it was just an amazing opportunity to have gone to school with some of these guys.

  • 12:52:50

    ANNEAnd I just -- I look forward to seeing what you all do when you're done with your degrees. Thank you.

  • 12:52:57

    NNAMDIGlad you brought that up because that's one of the things we were discussing in the break, that the veteran who is graduating and applying for a job may have different expectations and different experiences to someone who went straight from high school. You want to elaborate on that, Brian?

  • 12:53:11

    HAWTHORNEWell, I think some of it is economic and financial, that -- as an adult, that you have these -- I mean, you have more burdens, financially, on yourself. And you're probably not being supported by your parents, and so you don't necessarily get that transition, finding-yourself period after undergraduate, where you can float around for a bit and sleep on a couch and intern for free. That -- you know, so like Andrew, who's going to graduate as an undergraduate, if you look at -- if an employer looks at his resume, he sees all of these things.

  • 12:53:41

    HAWTHORNEOh, there's their college experience. So that's when his real experience must have started, at the end of his college degree. Well, no. That was a credential that he earned while he was still developing himself. But our employers are not necessarily equipped to bring him into middle management as a recent college graduate, whereas that would be what we would expect as being middle managers in the military. And so it can be a somewhat awkward conversation with a HR manager of what you're looking for as a recent college graduate.

  • 12:54:13

    NNAMDIOn to Margaret in Falls Church, Va. Margaret, your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:54:18

    MARGARETYes. Hi. My name is Maggie, actually, and I'm a veteran who served from '83 to '88 during the Earnest Will activity that was going on. And the nice thing -- I just moved from Connecticut, where, in Connecticut, as long as you're serving during a time, whether it's war time or there was an act of something that Earnest Will qualified me for, I had school for free in all the community colleges.

  • 12:54:40

    MARGARETThere's 13 in Connecticut, University of Connecticut and the other eastern, central and western universities. But here in Virginia, I can't find anything. I don't fall under the GI Bill. Since I'm 51, it was a long time ago. I'm just wondering if your guests have any ideas what I could do.

  • 12:54:55

    NNAMDIAndrew, any suggestions for Maggie?

  • 12:54:58

    PEDRYAs far as I know, I'm afraid you're out of luck. Thank you for your service, first of all. I know that some states, you know, have provisions in place, but from what I've seen so far at OMS, I don't believe that there's anything federally or in Virginia that would offer you any support.

  • 12:55:13

    HAWTHORNEI mean, what the best thing you're probably going to get is a more military-friendly culture on a campus, that you could be able to go in and explain your situation to a financial aid adviser and be able to somewhat appeal to the generosity of the university as far as loan provisions or maybe some scholarships. Many schools have set up scholarships specifically for veterans in your situation who, for one reason or another, do not qualify for the GI Bill.

  • 12:55:37

    HAWTHORNEAnd so there are some outstanding military-friendly "schools" that have made provisions for the kind of gaps in the populations. But, unfortunately, it's not an uncommon problem, and -- but the GI Bill benefits have expired for the previous generation.

  • 12:55:52

    NNAMDIWhich brings me to Mike -- and good luck to you, Maggie -- which brings me to Mike in Woodbridge, Va. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:55:58

    MIKEHi, Kojo. Thanks for letting me on the show. I just wanted to say, like, your guests, I had a really good experience with the VA when I was in college. Now, granted, I think I was one of maybe three people receiving VA benefits at the time, so it's not like I had a whole department to myself. It was really personalized. It was great. And VA benefits and tuition assistance essentially paid for my bachelor's and master's degree.

  • 12:56:23

    MIKEHowever, the problem I noticed was when I was looking for a job. I found that I was having difficulty keeping my military service on my resume after -- well, I was in the National Guard, and I felt like I could have possibly been discriminated against because I had -- I was still in the National Guard, even with a master's degree. And as soon as IETF from the National Guard, I -- jobs opened up significantly.

  • 12:56:47

    MIKEAnd I was wondering if maybe your guests could speak on advice to people coming out of college that are still in the National Guard or in the Reserves and what advice they have for keeping that...

  • 12:56:56

    NNAMDIBrian is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.

  • 12:56:58

    HAWTHORNEYeah. Well, first of all, discrimination against a reserve status of a service member is against the law. You have the USERRA Act, which is designed to protect that exact thing. However, many small business and medium business owners are hesitant -- privately, they can't say that, but -- to bring on a member of the guard in reserve for fear of deployment or one of these kind of mental health scariness that we might have.

  • 12:57:22

    HAWTHORNEAnd, in reality, they're turning down a good worker that -- you know, you're turning down someone with a commitment to country who has to maintain a clearance and drug-free work environment, and they're not bringing them on to their team for fear of some unknown in the future. And I think it's very sad that that reality continues.

  • 12:57:38

    NNAMDIAnd, Mike, thank you very much for your call. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Andrew Pedry is an Iraq war veteran. He's a former Marine. Andrew is an undergraduate student at George Mason University. He works part-time in the Office of Military Services at George Mason. Andrew, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.

  • 12:57:54

    PEDRYThank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

  • 12:57:55

    NNAMDIBrian Hawthorne is also an Iraq war veteran. He's a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He's a master's degree student at George Washington University and a member of the board of directors of Student Veterans of America. He's also a consultant for the Department of Defense. Brian, thanks, and good luck to you, too.

  • 12:58:10

    HAWTHORNEMy pleasure, Kojo. Thank you.

  • 12:58:12

    NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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