Durham VA Health Care System
NCSU student aims to make colleges Veteran centric
Like any community, military Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. At NC State University in Raleigh, the 600 or so former military men and women can easily blend in with the 30,000 students crisscrossing the Raleigh campus every day.
The challenges that those Veterans face, however, are unique. That’s where Justin Rigdon – and a program called NC STRIVE -- come in.
Rigdon will serve this month on a panel of students who will answer questions at a conference of NC STRIVE, a state and Durham VA Health Care System collaboration that helps higher education administrators, faculty and staff see the value of Veterans on their campuses and educates administrators about the challenges that people returning from serving the nation often confront.
Rigdon is a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran. The infantry assaultsman mustered out in 2012 after four and a half years in the Corps. That included a tour of duty in Ramadi, Iraq in 2008-09.
This spring, Rigdon, 27, graduates from N.C. State with a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and minors in business and material science engineering. For the past two years, he also served as president of the campus’ Student Veterans Association as well as president of the UNC System Student Veterans Council, an organization that serves all 16 university campuses in the state-supported university system.
So Rigdon knows first-hand how vital it is for university and community college officials to assist former military personnel once they become students.
“Veteran initiatives in higher education are essential because we have retention issues,” Rigdon said recently. “Any motivation to push our Veterans to stay the course and accomplish their goals is a step in the right direction.”
That assistance keeps giving, Rigdon said.
“The more highly-educated Veterans we have in the workforce, the better,” he said. “And it starts by not letting them fall through the cracks while in school. Having a support network and system to prevent this by using all the means available is essential.”
An important way North Carolina campuses could help Veterans, he said, is to offer them priority status when registering for classes. If all of the seats for a next-semester class are full, an ordinary student likely can afford to wait a semester or two to take the course. For Veterans, their VA benefit funding runs out after 36 and at most 48 months. “Our money disappears,” Rigdon noted. Athletes, students with disabilities and honors students enjoy such priority status now. Veterans are such a small part of a student body that their inclusion would have little impact.
He also would like to see all of North Carolina schools offer the same services to Veterans.
Susan Watkins, program manager of the OEF-OIF-OND Transition Care Management Program at the Durham VA, praises Rigdon’s passion for advancing Veterans care on campuses. She also recognizes NC State University’s care for Veterans for decades, at least back to World War. “They are a leader,” said Watkins.
So is Rigdon. For his leadership in the arena, N.C. State this year named him one of only four students to receive the Mathews Medals, the highest non-academic distinction awarded to N.C. State students. Administered by the Alumni Association Student Ambassador Program, the award recognizes seniors who have made significant contributions to the university.