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Student Veterans Seek out OASIS on College Campuses

Veterans are among college students heading back to class this fall. At the University of Connecticut, more than 400 students have military experience. They're considered non-traditional students given the fact many enroll after multiple deployments. WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil reports on one way campuses are working to accommodate their needs. 

Lucien Lafreniere joined the U.S Marine Corps right after graduating high school. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 until 2007. Back in Connecticut, he enrolled at UConn the following Spring.  But Lafreniere says the first year can be tough for veterans.

"You feel very much apart from the general population. Because most of the traditional students are of a different age, different experience and much different maturity level."

"It's really easy to not understand or not notice our veterans."

That's Paul Gaines, Jr., a former Manager of UConn's non traditional student population 

"They're no longer in uniform, they have 5 o'clock shadow but the difference is they have  an experience and a worldview that's entirely different than someone who's come to college right out of high school."

In 2007, multiple state agencies including the Department of Veteran Affairs launched OASIS or Operation Academic Support for Incoming Servicemembers. The idea was to provide a place for veterans who need support transitioning back to civilian life. Every community college and state university in Connecticut has an OASIS except UConn.

Lafreniere says that kind of space is vital.

"The term camraderie is thrown around a lot as far as what veterans miss the most about military life and it provides an environment for that to happen."

And according to Gaines, it’s what some veterans need after combat.

"Let's say a car backfires or someone pops a balloon outside and the student hits the deck.  No one is going to look at them as if 'What's wrong with you or what's his problem?'"

UConn at Storrs used to have a so-called 'vet house'  for students to meet and seek support. But a few weeks, ago, student veterans were told to move out because the first floor was needed for underclassman housing.

Now they're waiting for UConn to finish renovating a room in the Student Union to serve as an OASIS.  UConn says it will be completed sometime this semester.