by Taylor Stewart

Walter C. Stewart, Veteran Recruitment and Student Services director, shakes the hand of a graduating veteran student during Coins and Cords ceremony.Walter C. Stewart, Veteran Recruitment and Student Services director, shakes the hand of a graduating veteran student during Coins and Cords ceremony.

In 2021 the office of Veteran Services engaged with over 4,000 veterans across campus and offered essential services, programs, and events vital to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s veteran community.

Upon returning to campus, their staff saw a 60% increase in the Student Veteran Association enrollment. This on-campus organization seeks to give a voice to veterans and their dependents.

"Most of our veterans want to find a way to give back to the community, they want to help others whether they're still active duty or have retired and come back to school," said Walter Stewart, Director of Veteran Services.

Obie Carnathan, a junior studying computer science, has found a purpose on UAB's campus through the Veteran Services office. "When I first got here, it was a little difficult for me. I was looking for a chance to still be the leader that I once was (in the military)." It was the mentorship provided by the Veteran Services office that showed him how he could continue to serve a similar role in the classroom.

While serving in the United States Marine Corps, Carnathan served as a suicide prevention coach. He says that his experience with a childhood friend led him to help others regarding mental health. Carnathan recently participated as one of the organizers for Take Back the Night. This annual event seeks to advocate for a society where sexual assault no longer exists. 

Obie Carnathan poses for his Official Marine Corps photoObie Carnathan poses for his Official Marine Corps photo.

"Some of us deal with anxiety and depression," Carnathan said. While in the military, he encountered service members who were victims of sexual violence. "It goes on every day in our community, and we don't hear about it because people are too ashamed."

Veteran Services staff members aren't only dedicated to helping veterans and their dependents adjust to civilian life again. They also serve as mentors to help this unique group of students adjust to college life. Carnathan stated that his relationship with Stewart is unique, "Not only being a veteran but someone who reached a higher rank than myself, he's going to be someone that I instantly see as a mentor–someone that I can seek guidance from."

As a veteran student that also has a family, he has been able to seek guidance from Stewart on a number of crossroads he has faced, "I would be lying if I said I didn't get overwhelmed, I often get overwhelmed, but Mr. Stewart is someone who teaches me how to map things out with my wife and kids."

In addition to helping veterans with their benefits, the department also hosts their annual wreath-laying ceremony in honor of Veterans Day, Green Zone training for faculty and staff, and their own

commencement ceremony. "The most important thing is that I want them to know that there is someone here for them. To help them when they fall," said Stewart, pointing students in the direction of tutoring or study opportunities when students struggle academically.

UAB's veteran population has a 93% graduation rate, with students studying in areas across campus from the School of Nursing, College of the Arts and Sciences, Collat School of Business, and more.

As part of the department's coin and cord commencement ceremony, graduates are awarded a set of cords and a challenge coin to recognize their hard work and devotion to completing their degrees.

As the department continues to expand its offerings and programs, they hope to continue to see an increase in engagement from the veteran community. Whether it is finding programs within our community that can assist students when facing a crisis, making sure their veteran benefits are received or honoring their service, UAB Veteran Services offers numerous ways for its staff to support its veteran population.

Carnathan hopes that traditional college students will form relationships with the veteran population on campus, "Even if we do seem closed off, a lot of us are very open and willing to talk." Although both bodies of students live different lifestyles, "if you're looking for a companion to have throughout your college experience, a veteran is a good one to have."

To learn more about Veteran Services and the programs and aid they provide for their students, visit their website by clicking here.