It’s difficult to define today’s military veteran. But there is one thing they have in common - they don’t like being painted with the same broad brush.
“Just because I’m a veteran, particularly me because I’m a Marine, a combat Marine, don’t think you know my political affiliation, my beliefs, my values,” said Tedd “Gunny” Weiser, short for Gunnery Sergeant. “There is a label and we want to shed that, we want people to know that we are our own person.”
After 20 years in the Marine Corps, Weiser has become a touchstone for the veterans at Saint Leo University where he’s now interim director of Veteran Student Services. He knows what it’s like to have difficulty moving into the civilian world, to hit rock-bottom with post-traumatic stress symptoms “starting to rear their ugly head.”
“It came to a point one day at a traffic stop. I actually put my car in park, got out of the car, ran up two or three car lengths ahead of me to tell the driver who cut me off six miles back what I thought of him and my wife said, ‘That’s enough,’” Weiser said.
He got help from the VA for his PTS and decided to pursue his passion and his faith which led Weiser to Saint Leo University where he’s working on two masters’ degrees in Religion and Instructional Design.
But Weiser said he found his true calling running the Veteran Student Services office and the student veterans appear to be responding.
When Weiser started as an assistant in December, he said they averaged about one to two veteran visits a week. Now, just weeks into the fall semester and more than 60 have come through the office.
To help with the veterans’ adjust to campus life, a team at St. Leo University including Weiser, developed an online, Veterans Transition Course.
They partnered with Corporate Gray, publishers of The Military to Civilian Transition Guide which is used by the Department of Defense. Saint. Leo created an online version.
“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our student veterans and their families knowing that their time is limited and their resources are limited,” Weiser said.
The course is broken into eight modules and is self-paced. So, it can take as little as eight weeks or as much as eight months to complete depending on a veteran’s needs. And the course is geared to more than academics. It also offers guidance on networking, interviewing, resume building and even negotiating salary and benefits.
Weiser encourages the spouses and adult children of the student veteran to take the online course too.
“Because if it helps them, then it helps that veteran because it’s one less thing that veteran has to worry about,” Weiser said.
About one-third of Saint Leo’s 15,000-to-16,000 students are veterans or active duty military and a majority are not on the Pasco County campus. Saint Leo University has a College Online as well as 40 locations, many on military installations, throughout the U.S.
“When others in the 70s were protesting military, Saint Leo went onto its first campus in North Florida and started teaching at a military installation,” Weiser said. “We just celebrated our 40th Anniversary last year.”
That anniversary generated donations that created another program Saint Leo’s Student Veteran Emergency Fund.
Since January, Weiser says they’ve given more than 30 gifts ranging from $200 to $500 to help with a financial crisis. The student veteran fills out an application, answers some questions about their financial problems. The circumstances are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Weiser said he tries to give the student veteran a response within 12 hours.
“We’ve given money for, just last week, cancer medications, day care, car repair, unemployment, food, utility bills. Utility bills is a big one,” Weiser said.
That isn’t the only gift St. Leo University Veteran Services is distributing.
Their online transition course was initially just for their students. But earlier this month, the course was opened up to all transitioning military and veterans for free whether they’re headed to Saint Leo University, another college or into the job market.
You can learn more about the online Veterans Transition Course here.