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Marching for vets at Shuffle 27

Shufflers take a step in the right direction to support Veterans Student Aid
August 30, 2016
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By Susan Attafuah-Callender

Starting over after military service, many veterans on university campuses across Canada feel isolated and unsupported. A recent American study revealed that 88 per cent of war vets entering university drop out after their first year.

To turn that around, Gilbert Tordjman, BSc 89, Concordia’s executive director of Advancement Services, and a likeminded team will build awareness for veterans’ issues and raise funds for Concordia’s first Veterans Student Aid fund at Shuffle 27 on September 23, 2016.

Gilbert Tordjman Concordia’s executive director of advancement services Gilbert Tordjman will wear a 40-pound rucksack at Shuffle 27 to raise awareness for veterans’ issues and funds for Concordia’s first Veterans Student Aid fund.

“The Shuffle at its very core is a community-based event to rally support for students,” says Tordjman about the annual campus-to-campus walkathon fundraiser. “If we can do that for students who have given to our country, that’s even more commendable.”

Tordjman’s Shuffle team will travel the 6.5 kilometres between Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus and Loyola Campus carrying backpacks loaded with 40 pounds (18 kilograms) apiece.

The walk is reminiscent of military ruck marches, where soldiers transport all the goods they need to survive on their backs — up to 90 pounds (41 kilograms) — from one destination to another.

It’s far from Tordjman’s first ruck march, as he served two years in Canada’s Army Reserves, in the 51st Medical Corps, and rose to the rank of corporal. Before throwing on their rucksacks this time, he and his team are collecting donations for Veterans Student Aid.

This is the first year that the Shuffle will help promote a separate designated area of support. Shuffle organizers are accepting suggestions for future fundraising projects to support.

Supporting mental health

“There’s a lot of significance not only with the physical weight that soldiers carry but the emotional weight of their responsibilities,” says Eric Washburn, co-founder of the Concordia Veterans Association (CVA). Pursuing his undergraduate degree in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Washburn is an active member of the Canadian Armed forces with eight years of military service under his belt.

Shuffle The Shuffle walkathon helps raise funds for student scholarships and bursaries. This is the first year that the Shuffle will help promote a separate designated area of support, the Veterans Student Aid fund.

The CVA is open to anyone with military experience and provides peer support, transition assistance and veterans’ advocacy. Founded by Yves Leduc Butterworth in light of his own struggles coming to Concordia as an Afghanistan combat veteran with an ongoing military career of 11 years, the association is committed to ending the stigma surrounding mental-health issues on campus.

For many veterans, university seems a hostile environment where military experience is marginalized and stigmatized. Many face difficulty adjusting to the new system and isolate themselves from their peers, especially during mental-health crises.

Encouraging active or former military members at the university to identify themselves has been a major challenge for the CVA. Without a clear number of veterans attending Concordia, the group struggled to gain credibility and access university resources.

Yves Leduc Butterworth Yves Leduc Butterworth, Concordia Veterans Association co-founder
Eric Washburn Eric Washburn, Concordia Veterans Association co-founder

Veterans Student Aid will be the first allocation of funds specifically to veterans by Concordia. “The veterans in the CVA really appreciate this because it’s a practical solution. It’s something we need that will really help,” says Leduc Butterworth.

“When a veteran falls into a period of trouble they often don’t reach out. They just suddenly disappear and, in a university environment, if you don’t have that peer support, that goes unnoticed,” Leduc Butterworth says. He sees peer support as one of the best tools for reducing the suicide rate of student veterans, which is seven times greater than that of the general student body.

“You have people who are suffering with operational stress injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder and the financial troubles really compound the matter,” adds Washburn. “It’s going to help tremendously to get individuals past that financial hurdle and to focus on the academic aspect of returning to school.”

“The fact that these veterans have come together to help each other out is great to see,” says Tordjman, who is also chair of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education International’s District I. “Now we can offer an element of support.”

Beyond Concordia, the CVA hopes that the fundraising effort for Veterans Student Aid at Shuffle will have a ripple effect in other universities, inspiring similar action and more understanding for veterans.

“People can help by spreading the word,” says Tordjman. “If we can shed light on this issue, that would be great. If people want to contribute funding — that would be even better.”

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