MTSU junior Sean Martin has many reasons to look forward to the new year, not the least among them his appointment to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s new Veterans Education Task Force.
The panel of 10 individuals from higher education and politics is scheduled to conduct its first meeting from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Meeting Room K of the Tennessee Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Ave. in Nashville.
Martin, the only student on the task force, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009 and was a police transition team adviser for Iraqi police departments in the al-Anbar region from March through October 2008.
“Sean is a natural fit for the task force,” said Hilary Stallings, manager for recruitment and resources for the MTSU College of Liberal Arts and an adviser to the task force. “He is a gifted researcher and spokesperson and has a deep desire to improve the lives of veterans.”
The 27-year-old sociology major from Chester, Ill., who was nominated to the task force by Stallings and approved by a committee, already has ideas to improve conditions for veterans at the state’s colleges and universities.
“Private institutions have gone above and beyond, more than the public institutions,” said Martin.
Martin cites money as a major concern. He said that a “fight-or-flight” response kicks in with many veterans in the first two months of college, and they could drop out if they have a financial shortfall.
At present, said Martin, all financial paperwork from all agencies must be completed and processed before any money can be disbursed to the veterans. Martin would like to see money disbursed as each agency completes its own process.
“I know few people who have a better understanding of the theory behind veteran education policy, as well as holding a long-term perspective as to how these laws play out in practice,” Stallings said.
He also suggested deferring fall semester payments for veterans until the end of November and charging out-of-state veterans in-state tuition.
“Every vet defended the entire country, not just his home state,” Martin said.
MTSU has been hailed by Military Times in its “Best for Vets: Colleges 2014” rankings and by G.I. Jobs magazine, which placed MTSU in September on its 2014 Military-Friendly Schools List.
While MTSU does a good job helping veterans, Martin said all institutions could do a better job of tracking retention and graduation rates among veterans.
According to Tennessee Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder, approximately 35 percent of Tennessee’s veterans have some college credits or an associate degree. However, only 22 percent have a bachelor’s degree.
“We have the ability to set programs and policies in place,” said Martin of the governor’s task force. “They sound like they’re ready and willing to start making these moves.”
Martin is unabashedly forthcoming about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he goes to therapy once a week.
But while Martin is open about his disability, he worries about some veterans who are less than open about their service.
Martin said some vets go underground and refuse to admit that they’re veterans, even forgoing government benefits, because they are worried that society still holds negative views of former military personnel.
That’s why Martin wants to see a statewide peer-mentoring network of veterans who can address each other’s issues with the understanding that only comes with experience.
“Advocacy is a lifelong calling for Sean,” said Stallings. “He has been at this well before the task force and, I strongly suspect, will continue long after.”
For more information, contact Martin at 615-618-5808 or VETForceStudentRep@mtsu.edu.