Veteran makes New Start as student of social work

photo of Joel Peters and family

Social work student and U.S. Marine veteran Joel Peters at home with his wife Darcy and son Benson.

When his vehicle wrecked in East Africa on May 25, 2009, Joel Peters was on his way to administer first aid to fellow Marines injured by an accidental mortar explosion.

He wasn’t wearing the dated Humvee’s seat belt because it wouldn’t fit around his gear. He was thrown from the truck, hitting his head and injuring his rotator cuff, ribs and back. Peters suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and spent two weeks in a coma. His family was told to prepare for the worst.

Fast-forward five years, and Peters and his wife Darcy, also a former Marine, are now living in Timnath and expecting their third child. He’s hoping to graduate from Colorado State University in summer 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. And he doubts he could have done it without the New Start for Student Veterans program in CSU’s Center for Community Partnerships and one of its student-veteran coordinators, Erica Schelly.

photo of Joel Peters and son Benson
Benson gives his daddy a hug at their house in Timnath.

“If she wasn’t there, and the program wasn’t there, I’d be less motivated,” Peters said. “Sometimes I need that extra push.”

New Start is based in the Department of Occupational Therapy and funded primarily through the generosity of CSU alumnus and military veteran Dennis Repp and other donors, as well as backing from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It supports CSU student veterans by providing services in areas like memory, concentration, and/or physical challenges; stress management; academic skills; peer mentoring; recreation; and campus/community resources.

“Through New Start you realize that just because you got hurt doesn’t mean you can’t ever do anything again,” Peters said. “You got hurt, but that’s irrelevant at this point. At New Start, there’s a genuine desire to help. They are a welcoming place.”

Benson gives his daddy a hug at their house in Timnath.

Peters had a long road recovering from his brain injury. After a couple of months in the naval hospital in Bethesda, Md., he spent five months doing rehab in Palo Alto, Calif. Then he was stationed with a Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton in southern California for three years.

photo of the Peters family
Joel and Darcy Peters, both of whom are former Marines, are expecting their third child.

Despite the doctors who said he would never again speak intelligently or be able to drive a car, one of his only lingering symptoms now is an occasional loss of balance — the room spins briefly when he lies down. But he was told at Camp Pendleton that he’d never be able to achieve his dream of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a police officer.

Peters came to Colorado to get a fresh start and began taking classes at Front Range Community College, where he was referred to Schelly. Among Peters’ experiences with New Start has been whitewater rafting trips with fellow student veterans, which he describes as “the time of my life.”

And he hasn’t given up on his dream of doing the kind of work that police do. Once he gets his degree in social work, he wants to work with parolees in a counseling role. His father still serves as an inspiration.

“When I would go on ride-alongs with him, he always treated people like human beings,” he said.

Peters credits New Start with helping him keep that dream within reach.

“I think now I’m more confident than I was before,” he said. “It’s a very valuable tool for disabled vets.”