U.S. Marine veteran Phil Lennon credits Florida State with helping him make the transition from the military to college at a time when he needed a helping hand.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- More than 50,000 U.S. soldiers are expected to leave the military this year and many of them will return to civilian life with significant challenges.
It's estimated that about 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffer from brain injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
U.S. Marine veteran Phil Lennon left the military in 2008 feeling as if he wanted to drop out and isolate himself from the community. He tried to hide his military background by growing long hair, a beard and gauging his ears. Lennon says he went to the opposite end of the spectrum from his formerly clean-cut Marine look.
Then he met a group of student veterans at Florida's State's Collegiate Veterans Association and realized many of them shared the same struggles as he did. That common bond opened a new path for Lennon and helped him shed his isolation.
"In this process of being involved, I've felt myself want to become more a part of the community in a way that I haven't felt in a very long time and I was able to identify myself with a purpose much larger than just going to school as a job and getting a paycheck basically. I cut my hair and shaved my beard to really reintegrate and be a part of this organization and the family that is Florida State."
Now Lennon is the president of FSU's Collegiate Veterans Association.
He is one of the student veterans at Florida State who helped lead the way in the creation of the university's Student Veterans Center. It's designed to help soldiers make the transition from military life to college and the workforce.
This week, FSU held a Veterans Expo focusing on ways to help them achieve their goals. It was set up as a one-stop shop where veterans could find a variety of resources offering help for emotional, physical or academic challenges.
The Student Veterans Center's director, Col. Billy Francis, says the expo also helped identify steps to make FSU the most veteran-friendly university in the nation.
"Steps that we can take in the fall that will ease the transition of our veterans into college, help them get jobs post-college and then while they're in college steps that we can take to help them stay in college and perform up to their potential while they're here at Florida State."
Lennon says as he has talked with presidents of other veterans associations around the country he has come to believe that Florida State's focus on reaching out to veterans is truly unique.
"What Florida State is doing is they're opening their arms out as wide as possible to welcome veterans much like myself into their community, into their family and thaw those hearts out."
Currently, about 350 veterans attend Florida State. The GI Bill offers veterans 36 months of in-state tuition up to $17,500, plus a housing allowance.
First Coast News