Veterans interested in attending college have more resources available than ever, but veteran students face unique challenges. University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) veteran student Terran Fontenot reached out for support and found it in UHD Veterans Services.
Fontenot, 38, served in the U.S. Army from 1997 to 2001, and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) after returning from Operation Desert Storm. After receiving a medical discharge, he had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life.
“I alienated myself from family and friends, and my life was spiraling out of control,” said Fontenot. “I was at the culmination of many bad decisions and eventually found myself homeless. “
With PTSD treatment from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and counseling from a VA social worker, Fontenot was able to turn his life around. “It takes true strength to ask for help,” he said. Such support, and a meeting with a career counselor, led Fontenot down an educational path aimed at counseling fellow veterans and others who suffer with mental illness and homelessness.
In 2014, Fontenot enrolled at UHD to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work. He praises the help he received from instructors and staff of UHD Veterans Services, and credits them for his intellectual and personal development.
“UHD Veteran Services provided me with the guidance I needed to succeed, and helped me find ways to live with PTSD,” said Fontenot. “It’s been a bumpy road but I’ve had a lot of encouragement along the way.”
UHD Veterans Services offers specialized resources to ease military-background students’ transition to college and to help them complete their degrees, including assisting with enrollment, navigating the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs system, paperwork preparation to receive -GI Bill benefits, preparing for interviews and coping with post military life. The office also provides a transfer advising program, free access to computer labs, résumé workshops, career services, financial management programs and scholarships.
“The best part of working with the student veterans at UHD is seeing them succeed and accomplishing their education goals,” said veteran Richard Selvera, director of UHD Veterans Services. “Helping students like Terran is what makes serving veterans so special. They are humble, hardworking and grateful for the opportunity to go to college. “
Selvera added, “It’s also rewarding. When veterans receive honors, scholarships and degrees, we get to share in the moment because we played a small part in helping them succeed. They do all the heavy lifting, but we are able to reduce some of their stress.”
Fontenot took advantage of the opportunity afforded him by the Post 9/11 GI Bill to obtain his degrees. He earned an associate’s degree in social work from Houston Community College (HCC), and graduated from UHD in spring 2016 with his bachelor’s degree in social work.
During his time at the university, Fontenot participated in community service programs and accumulated awards, including the Excellence in Social Work Field Practicum award. He also had the opportunity to intern at Houston’s Open Door Mission, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless men who suffer with mental health and substance abuse.
Fontenot is grateful for the high-impact experiences he’s received at UHD and aspires to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He’s well on his way, attending the University of Houston (UH) and pursuing his master’s degree in social work in the UH Graduate College of Social Work, Advanced Standing Program.
What Fontenot wants most is to help other veterans.
“I want to give back to veterans using knowledge I obtained from UHD and its Veterans Services office, and the invaluable life lessons I learned as a veteran with PTSD,” said Fontenot. “I want to help veterans so they can pay it forward, too.”