Legion branch opens at UBC to support campus veteran community

A Royal Canadian Legion branch is opening on campus — the first branch in BC in 25 years and the first on a Canadian university campus.

The branch is part of UBC’s veteran-friendly campus initiative to make campus more welcoming to veterans and to help them transition back to civilian life.

The new Legion branch hopes to help veteran students navigate university life while providing them with a support system. While it was chartered in July, COVID-19 has paused the branch’s opening.

“What we’re trying to do is raise awareness about the military and veterans on campus,” said Reilly Ische, vice president of the branch and a reservist herself.

“There’s also a lot of services to navigate that can be intimidating for any student. And so what we’re hoping to do is connect them with all the campus resources, but also provide a community of people with similar experiences facing a similar lifestyle transition to each other.”

Veterans face unique social challenges that come with transitioning from being in the forces to higher education. Veterans are often older students who have been out of school for some time, so the branch is planning to support veterans by offering academic writing workshops, for example.

“If you’re not participating in the orientation week in the same way as everyone else, or maybe you have a family at home, you’re not going out and partying the same way other students are,” Ische said.

Ische said that they opted for a Legion branch rather than a student club because veterans could feel more comfortable with the Legion’s familiarity. The Legion advocates for all veterans from the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP. Members include both serving and retired veterans, their families, as well as civilians.

“The reason we’re going with the Legion is because it’s something that’s very recognizable to military members,” Ische said.

Tim Laidler, a veteran, UBC graduate and executive director of the UBC Institute for Veterans Education and Transition (IVET), agreed with Ische that pursuing a university degree might be an isolating experience for veterans. Classroom discussions can also be triggering for veterans, making them feel like they don’t belong in the classroom.

“If they’re talking about whether going to Afghanistan was a good mission or a bad mission, and there’s people who’ve lost friends and months before on the mission, it’s pretty difficult to disengage your emotional self,” Laidler said.

IVET is offering a five-course certification program to teach veterans about university culture and to give them the tools they need to navigate post-secondary education.

Ische added that the Legion is currently working to get a location on campus.

With both the veteran-friendly campus initiative and the Legion branch, Ische thinks UBC will attract more veterans.

“The really nice thing about UBC is that they’re willing to try things out and become the model, essentially,” she said. “So I would love to see more supports across all Canadian universities, and hopefully UBC can be a resource for those universities or student groups out there.”