Like most college juniors, Steven Collins spends his days in class, and his evenings—more often than not—are filled with homework.
But Collins probably doesn’t fit your idea of a traditional college undergraduate.
He’s been married for 25 years. Collins is the father of six children, and, over the years, more than 30 foster children have called his Clarksville, Tenn., house their home. He’s already had a few successful careers—in wholesale building and law enforcement, among others.
More than that, Collins spent 11 years serving as a combat medic in the U.S. Army before being medically discharged after a rappelling accident.
He enrolled at Trevecca last fall with the goal of completing his bachelor’s degree and fulfilling a dream. At Trevecca, God took that dream and transformed it into something new.
“I believed the Lord was telling me to serve my veterans by being a PA, but He was just telling me to serve your veterans any way you can,” Collins said. “So, I turned my attention toward psychology and counseling.”
Military and Miracles
Collins enlisted in the Army after his junior year of high school and completed basic training before returning to complete his senior year. After high school graduation, Collins completed a specialty course for combat medics. In the decade-plus that followed, Collins served his country in a variety of roles and locations, from Panama to Ft. Campbell.
“I ended my [military] career by getting to Ft. Campbell in 1993,” Collins recalled. “And then in October of 1994, I fell 65 feet, and I broke my foot and my hip, one rib and shattered four vertebrae. My military career, at that point, was plateaued by the process of seeing how well I would recover.”
Recovery took more than two years.
After Collins was medically discharged from the Army, he began pursuing a variety of careers to provide for his family. But through it all, Collins had this feeling he was called to something different. As an enlisted soldier and combat medic, he had assisted in hundreds—if not thousands—of medical procedures. But as a civilian, all avenues of working in medicine seemed closed to Collins. He set his dream of becoming a PA aside—if not completely, at least indefinitely.
Then came a pivotal appointment to evaluate his VA pension.
After leaving the military, Collins had been eligible for vocational rehab, but it was more than a decade after his discharge, so he assumed those benefits had run out. To his surprise, the VA employee signed him up for orientation anyway.
“I went to orientation, and I just knew it was going to be a fool’s errand,” he said. “I would watch this video, and they’d tell me that [the vocational rehab] benefits had already expired.”
But instead, Collins learned that funding was available for him to go back to college.
“She said, ‘We can pay for that. You’ve earned the right to do that,’” he recalled. “I broke down and cried. I had this one last great opportunity to do something I wanted to do.”
A New Calling
Collins enrolled at Trevecca last fall. While he now realizes that his calling to serve veterans has more to do with counseling than medicine, he isn’t waiting until after graduation to fulfill it.
Collins is currently serving as the president of Trevecca’s Student Veteran Association chapter. The William Bennett Memorial Chapter is named in honor of a fellow soldier and friend of Collins’ who died in Ramadi.
Michael Norman, veterans’ services coordinator and enrollment counselor at Trevecca, says the chapter is a vital way the University seeks to meet veterans’ needs.
“One of the most challenging things for a veteran to do is transition from service to civilian life and entering higher education is one of the most common paths veterans will take,” he said. “A successful transition often means making conscious, intentional efforts in the first few years to acclimate to civilian life. Participating in something like an SVA puts the veteran in an environment where they are surrounded by other people who know what they are going through.”
In addition, Norman says that the University is adding a new staff member: the veterans’ services coordinator. Beginning in January 2020, student veterans and applicants will have the benefit of a specific staff member who understands what they’re going through and can provide mentoring, advice and knowledge about the benefits offered to veterans.
In the meantime, Collins is excited to play a small role in helping Trevecca’s veterans feel loved and accepted.
“Veterans have walked a very specific path in their lives,” Collins said. “Some have seen the absolute worst the planet has to offer. As a veteran, I understand what they have been through and some of the struggles they are facing. So, it’s good to have a place they are aware of and can come to, where we listen and talk to each other.”
For more information on Trevecca’s SVA chapter, contact Collins at SDCollins@trevecca.edu.