Veterans attend college with new struggles

Cody Conway, a combat Marine in Iraq, envisioned a lifelong career in the military.

Four years ago, the Roseville, Calif., enlisted man returned from war unexpectedly, his life and future shattered by a noncombat accident outside Baghdad that tore the muscles and tendons from his right arm and shoulder.

Repairing a shattered future hasn’t been easy.

“I want to move on with my life,” Conway said Thursday between classes at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.

“But I’m disabled, and I can’t work. I’ve been a mechanic all my life. When I got back, I couldn’t do that anymore.”

For Conway and thousands of other war veterans, life after Iraq and Afghanistan has meant looking for new vocations and learning new skills as they struggle to put their lives back in order.

By the thousands, they are filling college classrooms across the country-but few campuses, veterans and their advocates are adequately prepared to respond to the surge.

Colleges are bracing for a huge surge of military enrollees, reminiscent of post-World War II.

The college campus has become a new front line as veterans of the country’s latest wars battle the bureaucracy at home to get the educational benefits they were promised from the military and confront what some perceive as stigmas of serving in an increasingly unpopular war.

“Let’s face it, the majority of college campuses don’t support the war, they don’t support what we’re doing,” said Conway, who wants to become a social worker.

“It’s a struggle,” he said.

“If I don’t go to school, and learn something new, I won’t have much else.”

Sierra College counts more than 200 Iraq war veterans attending classes, and school officials say more are on the way.

Many arrive on campus with the scars of war-physical and psychological.

While accustomed to the discipline of the military, they are unprepared for the rigors of academic life.