Andy Hislop

Viking Veterans

U.S. Army issue boots and backpack. // Photo by Dan Thomas

Through the Veteran Services Office, VSO, veterans at Western have built their own community. The connections they create with their fellow veterans can provide them with a valuable support system as they pursue their education at Western.

The VSO helps veterans and active duty students receive their full financial benefits, take the correct classes and build a support system with people in similar situations. The VSO is not just solely for veterans; it also takes care of family members of those in the military, known as dependants.

Keith Harmon, a six-and-a-half-year veteran of the Army and staff member at the VSO, said it is more than just a place for veterans to receive their benefits.

Morgan Musard salutes in the flag in her U.S. Army uniform. // Photo by Dan Thomas

“Day to day, probably the most meaningful thing we do is to make this a good environment for veterans and try to give each person who comes in with an issue, whether they are a veteran or a dependent, five minutes of our time and make sure whatever issue they have we’ve addressed,” Harmon said.

Most veterans receiving benefits at Western are on a full benefits package, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This set of benefits can be used for 36 months total and covers tuition, all mandatory fees and provides $1,000 a year for books. It also includes a living expenses stipend, ranging from about $306 to $1,539 a month, depending on the area of residence.

Spc. Morgan Musard, 22, decided to join the reserves as a way to pay for school. She enlisted in the Army reserve in 2014 and is currently serving while attending Western.

She said she joined the military because it was the option that made the most sense for her. Musard said the military helped her get away from some of the pressures she felt to get accustomed to the college lifestyle during her freshman year.

Musard said sometimes her service can have an effect on her time as a student.

“It can be hard with school, especially [because] for some reason, we always have drill the weekend before finals,” Musard said. “I have to go to dead week, then go to drill, then I have finals.”   

Western and the registrar’s office have been processing veterans benefits since the 1940s. The VSO in its current form started in 2011. After starting in Old Main 360, it recently moved to Old Main 280, to allow for veterans to have a larger community space.

Sgt. Russell Thompson served for nine-and-a-half-years in the Marine Corps as a security guard and later, a rifleman in an infantry unit. He came to Western this past January and is currently considering majoring in either linguistics or anthropology.

Thompson grew up in Pullman, Washington and came from a military family. His father, uncle and both grandfathers all served in the military and it was something Thompson had always wanted to do.

He said his military career helped him gain the confidence and experience to help him thrive in school and adapt to new situations. He said the VSO has also been helpful to him as a student.

“There is a great veteran community here that I have been very happy to be integrated into. It’s a little bit of a different resource than a lot of students have here, especially since I’m a little older than the average student who goes here,” Thompson said.

From left to right: Russell Thompson, Wava Vautour, Indira Tapias and Morgan Musard. // Photo by Dan Thomas

Ann Beck, the assistant director of Veteran Services at Western, said the veterans at Western are a focused group of people.

“Our veterans come in here, and they are very determined. They want to get their degree,” Beck said. “It’s oftentimes influenced by something they did in the service and they want to translate that into the civilian world.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Indira Tapias is a senior at Western and an employee at the VSO. She enlisted in the Navy when she was 19 and is in inactive reserves now.

“The best thing I have gotten out of it is the relationships I have been able to establish, friendships and work-wise, with other veterans,” Tapias said. “I feel like I have a big group of support that I wouldn’t otherwise and a big group of people who understand me on a level that no one else in the entire school would be able to.”

Tapias was born in Colombia and moved to New York City at the age of 8, where she grew up. She said she decided to take four years off from school and thought the Navy would provide her a more stable financial situation and a better direction in life.

Tapias said military life helped her as a student. Not only was it easier for her to speak with professors, but her direction changed as well.

“My focus is different. Coming from something as structured as the military, I have a lot more focus in being able to follow direction rather than just doing my own thing,” Tapias said.

The VSO also helps students who have taken a break in their higher education to serve. Pfc. Wava Vautour, 25, grew up in Yakima, Washington and was looking for a change of scenery. After gaining her associates degree, she decided the Army would be the next step for her. Vautour enlisted in the Army in 2015 and served until she was medically discharged. She is now a junior at Western.

While in the Army, Vautour was training to be in the communications, or “como” department. Vautour feels her time in the military greatly helped her prepare for life as a student and a professional.

“When you go through a training in the military, you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like. If you like what you were trained in, or if you don’t like what you were trained in, it gives you a better idea of what you want to focus on in school and what you don’t,” Vautour said.

Vautour said she has been able to build some very strong relationships with the people who work in the office and those who frequent it.

“I’ve met some of the most amazing people, amazing veterans, who I can share my stories with and they share their stories with me. You make really good friendships here,” Vautour said.