Cooper Dinges went through the ice-breaker activities with a far different perspective than the typical incoming freshman. It was not because of the awkward questions and group activities, but because Dinges is a 23-year-old veteran Marine Corps corporal.
Dinges is the vice president of the new Veterans Club on Butler University’s campus. Fellow Marine Corps veteran, sophomore Corporal Will Jones, is serving as the club’s first president.
A group that originally started as a way for Jones and Dinges to find fellow veterans to connect with is turning into something more.
“When we came here Butler really wasn’t a veteran’s school,” Jones said. “There weren’t many veterans here. It’s difficult to get out and come to school, to relate to people.”
Excitement about the new group grew once university administrator and faculty in the Office of Student Affairs and Financial Aid heard what Jones and Dinges were trying to do.
The club aims to make Butler a more veteran-friendly school. Its goal is to make financial aid options for veterans well-known and get support services for veterans offered through the university.
Debbie Ach is the Veterans Club’s faculty advisor and the University Veterans Affairs adviser. She is responsible for verifying veteran’s benefits through Veterans Affairs.
Ach, whose son and husband served in the military, said the Veterans Club will be important for Butler with the growing number of servicemen and women returning to civilian life.
Butler offers 24 Yellow Ribbon scholarships, which give veterans and their dependents up to $18,077.50, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally, all veterans discharged after Sept. 10, 2001 qualify for financial aid through the Post-9/11 GI-Bill.
“Originally, a veteran would look at Butler and not know about the aid that is available to them and think that they can’t go to Butler,” Dinges said. “So we want to make benefits more known to veterans.
“When I came here, I didn’t know what was available to me, I didn’t know who the VA rep was, basically until they came to me. So what we want to do is make it easy for veterans to know what is going on.”
The Veterans Club is in the final stages of becoming an officially recognized student organization, said Caroline Huck-Watson, director of the PuLSE Office. She said the group only needs approval of the Office of Student Affairs.
“Obviously, the students that put it together and the students that are supporting them by showing their interest in wanting to join show its value,” Huck-Watson said. “I’m also serving on a committee with Debbie [Ach] and some other folks, focusing on veterans and the needs and the support that we can be offering. So I think it was at a timely point that they came to us with this idea.”
Jones said the group is open to all students, not just military veterans. They plan on holding two monthly meetings. The first will be at the American Legion in Broad Ripple, with veterans present to talk about how to make Butler more veteran-friendly.
The second monthly meeting will be held on campus with all members of the club to focus on service oriented work, including sending care packages to troops abroad raising money for veteran and military organizations.
Jones said he also hopes to set up events with ROTC students at Butler so they have a chance to talk to veterans about life in active duty.