Communities bolstering mental health services for vets

12/27/2016

Communities bolstering mental health services for vets

When veterans get home from serving their country, many have a number of options available to them. And while some take job offers straight away and others choose to start their own businesses, a healthy portion instead decide to head to a college campus in pursuit of a degree. However, some of them may have a difficult time adjusting to the difference between military rigor and civilian life, and therefore need a helping hand to re-acclimate themselves. Fortunately, many colleges and communities are now investing in counseling and other mental health services to specifically serve these veteran students.

Experts generally agree - and there's also plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it as well - that it's not always easy for veterans to make that transition without help, according to a report from the Military Times. As a consequence, more schools are recognizing this issue and devoting significant resources to helping vets feel connected to their classmates and communities.

Comprehensive onboarding like veteran-specific orientations help colleges and vets alike prepare for the school year.Comprehensive onboarding like veteran-specific orientations help colleges and vets alike prepare for the school year.

How they do it
The first step most colleges take when it comes to making campus veteran-friendly is to reach out to vets to talk to them about their options for assistance soon after they first apply, the report said. That way, the former service members will often be able to weigh how best to proceed even before they arrive on campus. And once they do, veterans attending some schools may find their new communities have also developed veteran-specific orientation programs to better familiarize them with campus life.

"Most colleges reach out to vets soon after they first apply."

Next, it's vital for various veteran support services to coordinate carefully throughout the year so that they catch any problems veterans may encounter before they become significant issues, and work together to support former service members through any difficulties they may have. That can include working with professors to adjust exam times and class scheduling to better accommodate each veteran's specific needs. In the end, everyone on campus wants to see veterans succeed, so this level of coordination is typically undertaken enthusiastically.

"To come on campus in your mid-20s after having served, having nothing in common with your peers, it tends to generate feelings of separation," Retired Army Lt. Col. John Bechtol, who now serves as assistant dean of students for veterans' services at the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus, told the publication. "Even beyond considerations of post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues, there's often just this sense of loneliness, a feeling of being disconnected from their classmates."

Other forms of outreach
Of course, help in the classroom is often easy to coordinate, but if vets don't feel like they fit in, that can present its own challenges, according to Tulsa, Oklahoma, television station News On 6. And at the University of Tulsa, the school recently received a grant to deal with these issues specifically. The money went toward new appliances, flooring, and paint for the school's Student Veterans Center, and crews - which included campus veterans - worked hard to get the job done quickly.

The recently completed renovations on the center allow former service members - many of whom are several years older than the majority of their classmates - to connect with fellow students who also served and potentially foster a small community that can rely on each other in addition to school-provided services, the report said. But the building will also be home to counseling and career services specifically aimed at vets, so it becomes something of a one-stop shop.

"Outreach from other local veterans' organizations can still be a huge help."

Off-campus help
Finally, outreach from other local veterans' organizations that aren't specifically college-focused can still be a huge help to service members who are just getting home from duty, according to The Leader of the Wildwoods. Organizations such as the American Legion can help connect vets of all ages with access to all the benefits that are rightly due to them, which isn't always easy. This can be especially true when it comes to the kind of health care more recent veterans may need on an ongoing basis.

"VA members have come down to help maximize benefits, and to promote community-based health care," Michael Francis, veterans liaison for U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, told the newspaper at a recent VA event. "We're trying to maximize the health care the veterans are getting already."

One of the newer VA offerings that is catching on with vets regardless of their backgrounds is the telemedicine option that can help eliminate wait times for care at VA facilities, the report said. While some may not be totally comfortable with the idea, those who have used it say it's just another resource that can go a long way toward helping vets deal with whatever issues they may be dealing with.

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