Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Veterans Begin a New Chapter in Oxford, Mississippi

Veterans across Lafayette County returning home from tours of duty overseas often find themselves back in a civilian America that they have been away from long enough to lose their bearings.

There are a number of organizations in place to help the veterans find their footing. One of these organizations is the Office of Military and Veterans’ Services at the University of Mississippi. American armed service members looking to go to school often find themselves walking through an office like this one, where someone is available to help with enrollment and G.I. Bill benefits.

Michael Howland
Michael Howland

“I just feel like there is more that we can do for them because they have done so much for us,” said Michael Howland, coordinator of Veteran and Military Services.

Howland, who has been with the office for two years, is the point of contact for the 208 veterans who are currently enrolled in classes at the University of Mississippi, approximately 140 of which attend the Oxford campus.

“My main focus is recruiting and retaining veterans who are coming off of active duty and trying to return to school,” Howland said.

For many veterans, getting a degree is the next step in their career and a stepping-stone back into civilian life. The benefits provided to veterans upon leaving active duty through the G.I. Bill help pay for the education that veterans receive from the university. Most of the work the office does involves facilitating that process.

“Many veterans and military dependents for that matter are using G.I. Bill benefits to go to school and that can be a bit of a convoluted process for them. What we try to do is streamline that process,” Howland said.

Howland, a veteran and a former ROTC Leader, also said he feels that there is a personal touch and comfort to the help that the office provides.

“Having somebody who has been a veteran and someone who understands what the process looks like and more importantly what the reality will be. Hearing that at the beginning makes it easier getting acclimated to what you’re getting ready to do.” Howland said, “Once they understand it after the first semester or the first year they are just like any other student.

Greg Humphrey
George Humphrey

One such student is senior engineering major George Humphrey. Humphrey left during his junior year at the University of Mississippi for a nine-month tour of duty overseas, returning for the fall semester of 2014 to resume classes.

“It was a major shift,” said Humphrey. “While I was over there I was kind of on a routine, and coming over here – you have bills to pay, friends to see, homework. You have work and extracurricular activities that you have to keep up with.”

Humphrey manages the transition as many students do, by finding normalcy in their day-to-day life.

“I got a job. I got a dog. She keeps me company a lot of the time.” Humphrey said, “I just do what most Americans do when they are bored or don’t know what to do with their time.”

Humphrey is on track to graduate in May but not without his regrets.

“I wish I had taken advantage of more opportunities that the veterans affairs offers,” Humphrey said.

Howland said that this is common, “By and large veterans try to do things on their own, but they know there is a place they can come to if they need help.”

Not all of Oxford’s veteran population is young and fresh out of the service. There are many elderly veterans who need care and support. In Oxford, this need is provided for by the Mississippi State Veterans’ Home. The home is currently occupied by 142 veterans form around the state of Mississippi and staffed by a doctor, a team of nurses and various support staff and volunteers.

“We have an excellent home here for the veterans,” Joe Singletary, who works in the activities department of the veterans home said, “It’s a great place to live if you have to have somebody to take care of you.

The veterans’ home provides care for veterans who are longer capable of living on their own or who suffer from mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

In addition to the health and living services, the home also provides activities programming for the residents of the veterans’ home. Singletary is in charge of some of this programming. In particular he leads devotional programming at the home as well as story telling and recreational activities such as floor basketball.

Singletary said he is proud of the work he does and feels the help that the residents receive is worthwhile.

Singletary said, “I feel proud of myself and I feel I am doing more than just earning a paycheck.”


Drake Dickey is a journalism major at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He can be reached at drdavis3@go.olemiss.edu.

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