By: Amy Dalrymple, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – National Guard veteran Joe Butler enrolled at Minnesota State University Moorhead a month after returning from Iraq.

But Butler, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and depression, found that he wasn’t ready for the classroom and took a year off.

“I don’t think my head was on right yet,” Butler said.

After getting some help, Butler returned to MSUM to pursue a social work degree with the goal of helping other veterans.

“I don’t want this to happen to any other veterans,” said Butler, now 29 and in his final year at MSUM. “I want to help them to overcome these obstacles.”

On Wednesday, MSUM dedicated a newly remodeled Veterans Resource Center that will be better equipped to assist students such as Butler who are returning from war.

The center – located in the hub of campus in Flora Frick Hall – will provide a place where veteran students can gather and support each other, said Butler, a student worker in the center and founder of a student veterans club.

“A lot of veterans go through a lot of returning-home issues thinking that they’re the only one,” he said. “Being able to just talk to other veterans, see other veterans and help each other out is a big positive.”

MSUM named the new center after Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, former adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard and an MSUM alumnus.

Shellito said he experienced many of the same challenges veterans report today. He earned his first degree from MSUM in 1968 and was in a uniform 12 days later.

Shellito returned to MSUM after three years in a war zone to find that his friends had graduated and moved on and he was older than most of his classmates.

“I really felt isolated,” Shellito said.

Campus veteran centers have moved from makeshift offices to more prominent locations at colleges and universities, Shellito said.

MSUM’s center was recently located a few blocks off campus and later in a space the size of a closet in the library, Butler said.

The new location is prompting a lot more foot traffic, he said.

MSUM has about 230 students who are certified to receive veterans’ benefits, said Dave Bellefeuille, state supervisor for Higher Education Veterans Programs.

Colleges and universities should be prepared to continue seeing an influx of students returning from war.

“There’s a tsunami of veterans that are still coming,” Shellito said.