Jill Biden Launches Listening Tour on Veterans at GW

Second Lady Jill Biden speaks at the George Washington University on April 10.

April 15, 2013
Second Lady Jill Biden kicked off a listening tour April 10 at the George Washington University, learning about how the university supports student veterans, active military and their dependents.

The visit was part of the White House’s Joining Forces, a national initiative led by Dr. Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama to spark all sectors of society to support service members and their families. It included remarks from Dr. Biden and a panel—moderated by Michael Ruybal, veteran services coordinator—of student veterans, faculty and staff who showcased a few of the many programs and initiatives the university supports.

That ever-important support will become more so in the next few years, Dr. Biden said, as more than 1 million servicemen and women end their military careers and transition back to civilian life.

“That’s why, on our campus communities, we need to make sure that our veterans have access to the programs that will help them succeed and obtain good jobs to support their families,” said Dr. Biden, whose son, Beau, is a major in Delaware Army National Guard and deployed for a year to Iraq.

The university excels not only at “core competencies” but in leading the way with “next practices,” when it comes to assisting student veterans, said U.S. Navy Lt. Comm. Alex Greene, B.S. ’01, an assistant professor of naval science. Just today, the university announced the hire of retired Vice Adm. Mel Williams Jr., who will serve as the inaugural senior associate dean for military and veterans initiatives starting April 29.

Panelists highlighted GW’s Office of Veteran Services, which is a “one-stop shop” for anything student veterans may need in their transition to higher education, from benefits processing surrounding the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program to connecting them with campus groups and activities, said Petty Officer 1st Class Latica Woods, a senior in the School of Public Health and Health Services who served 10 years in the U.S. Navy.

The office is constantly producing new programs, panelists said. One is the Ribbon Project, a full immersion program that gives faculty and staff a glimpse into student veterans’ lives, from background sessions on the armed forces to full-immersion training where students act as drill instructors and one-on-one sessions to learn about topics like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Training faculty and staff on veterans’ lives helps them better tap their experiences in the classroom, allowing the veterans to “continue to mentor the future leaders who are coming out of GW,” said Mitch Bent, a junior in the Elliott School of International Affairs who served as an airborne infantryman and noncommissioned officer with two tours in Iraq.

Another new initiative is the Rendering Project, which aims to connect veterans with local high school students who will create art based on the veterans’ personal essays.

“Every man and every woman who has served in the U.S. armed forces has a very unique experience and story to tell,” and using art is an excellent way to do that, said Elena Kim, a senior in the Elliott School and five-year veteran who served in Iraq.

Helping veterans continue to serve is another important component to GW’s programs, said Seth Lynn, who spent six years in active duty in the Marine Corps and is director of the university’s Center for Second Service.

One such opportunity is the Veteran Day of Service, which GW hosted over the weekend. Student veterans, military family members, ROTC and civilian supporters volunteered at six different sites, including D.C. Neighborhood Promise Initiative, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

At the panel discussion, Mr. Lynn also highlighted the university’s latest Innovation Task Force initiatives, many of which center on service and leadership opportunities for veterans.

“We do better as a country when we have more leaders who are selfless, who are courageous and who are willing to put aside their differences to do what’s best for their country,” he said.

Mr. Lynn also mentioned that the center would be hosting a conversation with Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., M.A. ’92, later that evening after the panel on April 10.

The student group GW Veterans serves a key role, representing 1,500 students and connecting them to service opportunities and to other members of the university community, said Nichole Krom, a freshman studying anthropology who is the secretary of the organization.

At the end of the half-hour discussion, Dr. Biden congratulated the students, faculty and staff for their efforts, adding that educating the public about the veteran experience is particularly important.

“I’m sure many of you know that 1 percent of Americans served in these wars. The 99 percent have to support them,” she said.

The programs at GW are working to achieve that.

“I can’t thank you enough for everything you’re doing,” Dr. Biden said.