A collage of images featuring Matthew Brennan '23.

A Voice for Veterans

A top-ranked "Best College for Veterans," UMass Amherst provides community, support, and resources for students pursuing a degree while actively serving or after concluding service in the military. At UMass, one such student discovered a passion for veterans' affairs and has gone on to a career in Washington, DC, where he advocates for important legislation that would improve the lives of all veterans.

Certified by the G.I. Bill, UMass Amherst is one of U.S. News and World Report's top 40 Best Colleges for Veterans—schools that make pursuing a college education more affordable for veterans and active-duty service members. We are committed to offering quality services and support programs for student veterans, active members of the military, and their families. The Student Veteran Resource Center (SVRC) works to support veterans as they pursue their degrees, setting them up for success at UMass and beyond. Dedicated staff members—many veterans themselves—are committed to helping student veterans make the transition from military to academic life. The SVRC provides community and comfort as well as a place to study, relax, meet other student veterans, and access resources.

For Matt Brennan ’23, the SVRC proved critical in helping him not only find community and support but actualize his calling to a career in advocacy for veterans' rights. Brennan enrolled at UMass Amherst after serving five and a half years in the United States Navy as a combat medic. He went on to become tirelessly involved with veterans’ affairs on the UMass campus, which led him to work at the American Legion and on the Veterans in Higher Education Task Force, where he advocated for important legislation that would support fellow veterans, especially as they pursue college degrees. He is currently a military legislative assistant in the US House of Representatives.

Transitioning to Civilian Life

Matt Brennan '23
Matt Brennan (right) with a former teammate during a flight medic training course

When Brennan left the Navy, he started the transition process back to civilian life, returning to Massachusetts to be close to family. “It’s not easy,” he says of the transition. “When you return from service, you think that you’ll return to this life you had before you joined. But you have such a difference of life experiences.” Brennan reflects on his final year of service, which he spent in several African countries supporting special operations units. “You see all these incredible people and go to these incredible places, and you realize pretty quickly, ‘I’ll never be who I was before.’”

This is a common shared experience among veterans, especially those dealing with combat stress and trauma. Many isolate themselves, which can lead to a more difficult transition back into civilian life. Recognizing this, Brennan sought other veterans to establish a sense of community with a group of people who could understand him and what he’d experienced.

Combining a Passion for Veterans Affairs with Academic Pursuits

Matt Brennan '23
Matt Brennan, four months into his deployment overseas

Brennan enrolled in a community college immediately after his service and transferred to UMass Amherst shortly after COVID-19 restrictions began to relax in 2021. He realized that everyone—not just student veterans—was “a little nervous to be around each other.” Identifying a need, Brennan set out to see what he could do to “build those ties and rebuild that community” for veterans on campus.

Interested in studying political science with an eye toward a career in veterans affairs, Brennan chose UMass Amherst because of its reputation for excellence and the many opportunities to explore different facets of his education and interests here. “I knew that UMass was probably going to give me the best platform to really transition back into civilian life, and I thought I would be able to come in and give a helpful perspective from a nontraditional student,” he explains.

“My first day on campus, I went to the Student Veteran Resource Center,” recalls Brennan. “I spent pretty much every day in there,” he says, “and I found a community at school that I felt really comfortable around.” He met Matt Bachmann, director of the Student Veteran Resource Center (SVRC), who helped him in his pursuit to find ways to “support other service members like me who were getting out and didn’t know where to go.”

As the end of his first year at UMass approached, Brennan realized that most of his friends in the SVRC were seniors and would be graduating. “I thought about what they had, the relationships they built over the last few years,” he remembers. “I realized pretty quickly that there would be a whole new wave of incoming student veterans that would be looking for community,” he said. Brennan wanted to act fast and find a way that he and other student veterans could “put our hand up” when new veterans arrived at campus. In early 2022, he started the UMass Amherst chapter of the Student Veterans Association (SVA), a registered student organization with a mission “to assist all students transitioning from the military into civilian life.”

American flags.

The Student Veteran Resource Center actively supports student veterans, service members, and eligible family members in their pursuit of higher education. They facilitate access to resources that aid a meaningful transition to campus life and achieving the academic excellence that leads to success at UMass and after graduation.

A Voice for Veterans on Capitol Hill

Matt Brennan '23 with his parents after graduating from UMass Amherst.
Matt Brennan with his parents after graduating from UMass Amherst in 2023.

While serving as chapter president for the upstart SVA, Brennan also served as secretary for veterans affairs in the Student Government Association. At the same time, he accepted a position as a legislative intern with the American Legion in Washington, DC, where he relocated the summer before his senior year. He was quickly hired as a full-time policy analyst.

During his senior year, Brennan took advantage of UMass Amherst’s flexible education options. He worked 50 hours a week conducting policy research, writing policy analysis, fundraising, and dealing with legislation affecting veterans and active-duty members of the military. The hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. would be devoted to his work with the American Legion, and evenings would be spent on schoolwork. “It can be difficult to find that balance,” he admits, “but I really do love the work that I do.”

Brennan’s passion for his work was on full display during a hearing before the Committee of Veterans Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives. Speaking for the American Legion, Brennan discussed pending and draft legislation and advocated for the VET-TEC Authorization Act to permanently fund the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses program. He considers it a “profound privilege” to work “to ensure that the sacrifices of our nation's veterans are recognized and valued.”

Watch Brennan's Congressional Testimony

The bipartisan VET-TEC Act was passed by the House with overwhelming support in May 2023. The legislation makes the VET-TEC pilot initiative permanent, with new funding appropriated every five years. It also aims to “improve eligibility for the program, help new educational institutions become providers, and allow them to offer part-time training programs.”

Brennan now serves as a full-time military legislative assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives. He continues to work tirelessly in support of fellow veterans transitioning from military service into civilian life and advocates for the resources and programs that can help them thrive.