By Andrew Griffin, director of the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs

“Military friendly school” is a phrase that is tossed around higher education a lot these days. What it means exactly is, well, difficult to define.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported on the difficulties faced by veterans—and veteran service offices—at universities in Utah and Maryland. Their problems range from lack of administrative support to inadequate office space to distrust by the student-veterans themselves.

As Inside Higher Ed reported, the same traits that sometimes make it hard for veterans to assimilate on campus—they’re older and more independent than traditional students and might have families—can make them reluctant to seek out support. Some also may suffer from PTSD.

Overall, the NAU Office of Military and Veteran Affairs has tremendous support from the administration, but at times it is a process to educate the public and the university community of issues that impact our military students.  So we serve as their advocate.

The first step is to build trust between the institution and the 1,000-plus veterans who are part of the NAU family. The office employs three full-time staff members and 10 student veterans, creating an instant trust when veterans serve veterans. We also have greatly improved our ability to identify the military students on campus and how to reach and encourage engagement.

Once we engage with our student veterans, we then introduce them to support mechanisms that exist at NAU, including a veterans transition course, a chapter of the Student Veterans of America, deployment and redeployment withdraw and readmissions support, and partnerships with off-campus military organization for veteran court and medical support.

NAU has been selected as the state-supported school to host the 2013 statewide summit to study veterans in higher education.  We have been given this honor because of our recognized leadership in the area within Arizona.

Andrew Griffin retired as a lieutenant colonel after 31 years in the U.S. Army. He also serves as director of Financial Aid.