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Durbin visits NIU’s military veterans

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., (left) talks with NIU students and military veterans Nathan LaForte and Charity Son (right) during his visit Wednesday to the NIU campus in DeKalb.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., (left) talks with NIU students and military veterans Nathan LaForte and Charity Son (right) during his visit Wednesday to the NIU campus in DeKalb.

DeKALB – After being deployed to Iraq three times, Craig Gentman found adjusting to civilian life rather difficult.

Northern Illinois University and its Military Student Services program helped him overcome that challenge through a network of military veteran students just like him.

“When you join the military, you join a different culture,” he said. “[It] lives with you for the rest of your life.”

Gentman and other NIU veteran students met with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Wednesday on campus to discuss the school’s nationally recognized military student services.

Durbin praised NIU and other public universities for providing services such as housing, health care, counseling and job searching. Military Times ranked NIU as the 28th best school in the U.S for veterans.

As a former Marine and president of NIU’s Veterans Club, Gentman said more than 900 veterans attend the university, which Durbin said was commendable.

Durbin asked students what the Department of Defense could do better to assist young veterans who are discharged and want to earn a degree.

“We want to focus federal dollars into educational investments that work,” he said.

NIU graduate student and Marine veteran Nathan LaForte told Durbin that providing a smoother transition from the military to civilian life is an area in which the department could improve.

After months of training and adjusting to a new military lifestyle, LaForte said the military provides a week of briefing before service members re-enter civilian life, which can be overwhelming.

“[You have to] stop becoming what you’ve been doing your whole adult life,” he said. “One week is not enough.”

One issue Durbin discussed was the for-profit colleges that target veterans aggressively and often offer worthless degrees, he said.

Durbin said veteran students see the kind of for-profit schools that LaForte described as “high speed, low drag,” and are tempted to enroll using their GI Bill benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Durbin said many veteran students waste their GI Bill benefits because they are misled by for-profit schools, some of which have one faculty member for every 500 students and more than 1,700 recruiters.

Making veterans more aware of the for-profit schools is something the military needs to incorporate into the briefing process before the service member’s release from active duty, LaForte said.

“There’s got to be someone there telling them about it,” he said.

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