Longhorn Life as a Veteran

Veterans add to the strong sense of community in the Longhorn family

Joshua DeFour, radio-television-film graduate student and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, says The University of Texas at Austin is a natural fit for people interested in attending college after serving in the military.

“When the first thing you read about a school is ‘What starts here changes the world,’ that’s a very certain type of person you’re drawing,” says DeFour. “I would say it’s almost the exact same type of person that’s going to be drawn to the ‘The Few. The Proud.’” He said ambitious, team-oriented people make excellent Longhorns because UT Austin values community and hard work, encouraging students to work toward common goals.

After serving as a combat videographer, DeFour was still adjusting to life in Michigan beyond active duty when he decided to dive into a new challenge—film school. He found Austin to be a welcoming place to gain his footing in civilian life. “Everywhere you look, someone is open to having a conversation and learning about you,” he said. It also helped that UT Austin’s top-notch film program is one where that spirit of Longhorn camaraderie thrives. He and his classmates are constantly relying on each other to get their scripts written and produced. They collaborate on ideas and bond over working long hours on each other’s film sets.

UT Austin offers resources throughout the application process and transition to student life to ensure veterans can succeed here.

While the admissions process for veterans does not differ from that of any other prospective student, the Office of Admissions works to meet unique needs they may have. For example, a person in active duty may have limited communication availability; in that case, admissions staff will speak with another person, like a spouse or other surrogate, on their behalf.

“We make a conscious effort to ease their interaction with our process,” said Mike Washington, associate director of admissions. “Service members deserve the opportunity to have equal footing with other students.”

Once a veteran is admitted, Student Veteran Services (SVS) steps in to ease the transition to campus life, beginning with a special orientation that includes a guided walk-through of submitting benefits-related paperwork. “Among that whole transition, the one thing I never had to worry about was my GI Bill stuff. Everything was in good hands,” said DeFour.

“We like to say we have a ‘no-punt policy,’” said Jeremiah Gunderson, director of SVS. “We try never to send veterans to deal with something when we can help. They should be able to focus on class.”

UT Austin is currently the only school in the state of Texas with a Veterans Integration To Academic Leadership (VITAL) coordinator. Jeff Moe provides mental health counseling on campus and assists with Veterans Affairs health care enrollment, disability accommodations and coordination of medical and mental health care at VA facilities. 

Unlike DeFour, history major Eric Krug, Texas ’18, was well acclimated to civilian life when he decided to seek his degree. After finishing service with the U.S. Air Force in 2006, he enjoyed a flourishing career in stand-up comedy, with appearances on Comedy Central and at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival. “The hard part in the years when I was just doing comedy was not really understanding what the next step was. That was kind of chaotic for me.” Pursuing his interest in history could give him the option of a career in education, should he ever want to change paths.

Krug said that because of the resources offered by SVS, “UT has a reputation for being good with veterans.” He’s a proponent of the option to receive mental health counseling on campus. “You’re talking about people who have been in and had a lot of combat experiences, so I think that is a comfort for them,” he explained.

Krug added that sometimes peoples’ preconceived notions about military life can make veterans feel a little alienated. “I think veterans can kind of feel like people don’t really understand, or they have a superficial interest in you, like they either give you the hero’s treatment and go about their day, or they feel like you might have PTSD.” While Krug hasn’t always been active in the veteran community on campus, he has experienced times when it was helpful to interact with people here who’ve had similar experiences both in and out of the military. SVS was able to help him make those connections.

DeFour and Krug are doing well in part because they’ve been able to find a home in the film and comedy scenes at the university and in Austin. “You need to have people you can trust, because you’re not going to be able to trust just anyone in the way you could in the military,” said DeFour. “[There] you know that they’re all going to take a bullet for you. But in the real world, you don’t know those people—you have to find them. And it’s really important that you do that, because you need to have that feeling that you’re not alone out there just trying to get this done.”