Film documents experiences of student veterans

Student veterans at Veterans HouseIn 2008, Greg Blimling received a charge from then-university President Richard L. McCormick: Find a way to forge sturdier ties between the university and its student veterans.

“We realized Rutgers hadn’t done as much as it could,” says Blimling, the university’s former vice president of student affairs.

The result: Veterans House, which Blimling dubs a “one-stop place to get help.” The center, established in 2010 on the New Brunswick campus, offers academic, financial-aid and mental-health counseling from visiting university professionals, as well as a range of other support services and programs.

“These are not your traditional college students,” Blimling says. “You feel your life is so different. It can be hard to integrate into the university.

“[And post-graduation], how do you manage family, children and looking for a job with fears about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)?” he adds, noting high unemployment figures among the nation’s young veterans—rates that tend to top the national average. “This is our opportunity to be sure they’ll go out with the very best skills we can provide them.” 

Earlier this year, the Rutgers Office of Student Affairs commissioned the Rutgers Film Bureau to shoot a feature-length documentary focusing on the stories of a diverse group of student veterans at Rutgers. The film crew, a mix of students led by Rutgers Center For Digital Filmmaking Director Dena Seidel, is in the midst of an 18-month shoot that is set to wrap in January 2014.

Blimling says he initiated the Veterans House documentary project because “it became clear that the student vets had a story to tell. Their experiences are inspiring and unique.”

Among the subjects in the film are Scott, a Marine studying political science who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered a traumatic brain injury from an explosion and developed Crohn’s disease from the harsh conditions, as well as PTSD; Kaz, who enlisted in the Air Force and served in Iraq. He is studying criminal justice and has been diagnosed with PTSD; and Carol, of the Coast Guard, who served on the response team in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She works as an environmental science researcher for the university.

 Seidel says she has noticed that one of the most formidable challenges student veterans face is “acclimating to a liberal university environment in which the student vets have to regulate their own schedule and career paths after living in a very regimented culture.” She says she hopes the film will dispel stereotypes about student veterans.

“There is still a very real separation on campuses between students who have served in the military and those who have not,” Seidel says. “Our film is an opportunity to show the diversity in student veteran experience and life.”

Student filmmaker Jamie Deradorian-Delia agrees.

“Being a student, it is easy to see the people around you as only students,” says Deradorian-Delia, an English major and a member of the film crew. “However, when finding out that the person sitting next to you has experienced life events that you have only experienced as a spectator, it puts those individuals in a whole new light.”

And, as Blimling sees it, film is the ideal vehicle.

“We’re a media-driven culture,” Blimling says. “With a well-done documentary, people can see, understand and feel [the vets’] experiences. It has a storyline in which people can be involved.

Media inquiries: Laurie Granieri, 848-932-5239

Posted September 2012