Army veteran leads seminar on challenges of student veterans

United States military veterans face a variety of problems after returning from serving abroad, and one of those challenges is going back to school. 

Michael Bermes, a U.S. Army veteran and a social worker, gave a seminar to student veterans and faculty Thursday at Wichita State.

“He’s been a professor, he’s been in the army, retiring after 21 years, and then he went back and received his Ph.D. in administration and social work,” said Brian Bolin, director of the School of Social Work, which hosted the seminar. “He’s a clinically licensed social worker, so it is pretty apparent that he has a really impressive résumé.”   

Bermes said some of the biggest battles veterans face after miliary service include depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) and if they then decide to go to college, their GPAs.

He said the transition to college can be one of the most difficult times for a soldier, and some veterans drop out without proper support. 

“He was talking about coming to campus and how alienating it is,” veteran junior Cody Herrin said. “That hit me really hard because when I came here in 2012, there were no groups here to connect with, so I almost dropped out. Then, I ran into another Marine, and we opened the Military and Veterans Student Center here in 2013.” 

Bermes said teachers and faculty could better help and challenge student veterans.

“As professors and faculty, we need to take the lead in understanding our population, and we need to set the example and be role models,” he said. “We need to be accessible to not only our veteran students but to all of our students.” 

During and after the seminar, many student veterans in the audience shared their opinions, experiences and stories.

“He’s a great speaker, and it was a good way to bring it to a wider audience of what some of the needs of our student veterans are,” said Sarah Sell, director of Veterans Services at WSU.

Though many topics were discussed during the seminar, Bermes’s own stories of helping veterans as a social worker stood out, which Bolin said was one of the main reasons he wanted Bermes to come. 

“We had initially thought he would be a great speaker … because he can talk about the power of social work and professionalism as a social worker,” Bolin said. “I really wanted some of our veterans, after their service in the military, to be able to continue that service in other ways, and social work is one of those ways to help others.”

Bermes said because the Military and Veteran Student Center is still new to campus, it is probably not receiving the attention it deserves, yet, and it will take action from the highest level of the university to get it the attention it deserves. 

“We need to stop talking about student veteran challenges, and we need to start making these things actionable,” Bermes said. “We have talked too long and there are too many generations of our veterans falling under the bridge. We can’t do that anymore, so we have to start stepping up and doing something about it.”