US Senator Dick Durbin speaks highly of NIU’s military programs

By Ryan Chodora

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) discussed NIU’s nationally recognized military programs with students and faculty from NIU’s Military Student Services (MSS) Wednesday.

MMS is a department within Student Services that provides resources for veteran and military students. Some of the department’s services are mental health advising and social and educational programs. About 850 military and veteran students attend NIU, which was ranked 28th in the Military Times 2013 Best for Vets college survey.

Students were gracious to be able to sit down with Durbin to discuss NIU’s programs.

“I believe it’s very important because it’s easier for professionals to sit in an office and discuss what they think should be going on, but it’s different when you actually talk to the student veterans who are living it every day and seeing problems that they face every day,” said Craig Genteman, NIU military student and president of the NIU Veteran’s Club. “Maybe the professionals aren’t seeing, and being able to really express that to them I think will help us come together and actually make real solutions that will help veterans now and in the future.”

Durbin asked students how they felt about the transformation from the military to student life. Genteman praised NIU’s MSS program and acknowledged the hardships military veterans face.

“When you join the military, you adopt a different kind of culture,” Genteman said.

Durbin warned students about the differences between “quality institutions” and for-profit colleges.

“Under federal law, for-profit schools may only derive 90 percent of their total revenue from the federal government; however, veterans’ benefits do not count toward the total, creating an incentive for these schools to aggressively pursue veterans and their GI Bill benefits,” according to a news release from the office of Dick Durbin.

Durbin asked military students if they had any changes they would like to see in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and if they had things they wanted to see changed for the transition from active service to student life.

Nathan LaForte, pre-physical therapy graduate student, said the transition phase provided by the military was inadequate.

“You spend three months in boot camp, becoming and learning how to change yourself from a civilian to a Marine, and in the Army, Air Force, Navy, you spend months becoming who you’re supposed to be,” LaForte said. “Then you go to courses to teach you how to do your job skill proficiently, and that can take anywhere between 63 weeks to a couple of months, and when we get done with this, and it’s time for that person to exit the military, they get one week worth of training to stop becoming what they’ve been their entire adult life and say, ‘OK, here’s a week, wear a suit when you go to a job interview….’ One week is not enough.”

Durbin mentioned veterans not getting the most out of their GI Bill. He praised NIU’s MMS and its efforts to help military students and veterans.

“I think that Senator Durbin’s interest in this topic is commendable; I think he’s on the cutting edge,” said William Penrod, associate professor at NIU. “I think he’s looking to help solve a problem before it manifests itself even more. We’re going to have all of these veterans that are going to be separating from the military and they need a career path that is appropriate that’s going to give them satisfaction and it’s best provided by people by people that actually care for them. And that’s why I’m so sold on Northern Illinois University.”