Disability support services recruits veterans

By Gus Bode

Disability Support Services is recruiting veterans who have sustained serious injuries in war to attend a weeklong summer transition program.

The camp – which is designed to help people with disabilities adapt to university life – is open to all potential students, but several spots have been saved for veterans, said Kathleen Plesko, director of DSS.

The more than 20,000 soldiers wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drove her to recruit veterans specifically, Plesko said.


“I think anybody of a conscience looks at that situation that we’re in right now and you just want to help,” she said.

Many soldiers injured in recent conflicts sustained serious injuries and are still in physical rehabilitation, Plesko said.

“What we might be looking at this spring would be more people who have depression or post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said.

She said she hopes to recruit at Scott Air Force Base, where many recently injured veterans from the area are taken when they return to the United States.

Those who attend the program do not need to be future SIUC students, and the camp is not intended as a recruitment tool for the university, Plesko said. However, she said many who attend the camp are drawn to the university’s accessibility.

“The rate that we keep out of that camp is probably close to 100 percent,” she said.

Brian Harrison, a sophomore from Palatine studying rehabilitation services, said he came to the camp and then went to a community college for two years before coming back to SIUC. Harrison, who is paralyzed from the waist down, said the camp helped influence his decision to attend the university, but it was not the only reason.


“I already knew it was the top school for people with disabilities in Illinois and one of the top in the nation,” he said.

T.J. Zweidinger, a junior from Palatine studying political science, said he learned how to be more independent and even how to defend himself from an attacker while in a wheelchair when he attended the camp in 2004.

He said the friendships he made during the camp helped keep him from feeling homesick during his freshman year.

“It kind of gives you a, ‘Well I already know that person and we’re going through the same experience,'” he said.

Plesko said the Illinois Board of Higher Education has paid for the camp in the past, but after this year the camp is not eligible for funding.

This will be the last year the camp is offered unless she can find a private source of money or the university pays for it, she said.

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