U-M bolsters veteran assistance programs
As universities nationwide prepare to serve more than 1.5 million veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, U-M has implemented numerous programs to help ease the transition from military life to college life.
"The University's size and complexity can make navigating the campus difficult, especially if a prospective student is deployed with the military out of the country," said Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs and senior counselor to the president, as he addressed the Nov. 20 meeting of the Board of Regents. "The main foci of the programs and services (we are implementing) will ensure that they accommodate these students' needs, and that student veterans are aware of the campus resources available to them. This effort will bring new energy to existing programs and increase the coordination among units that can provide this much-needed assistance."
The newly created Student Veterans Assistance Program and several related initiatives are examples of how the University is responding to this need, said J. Ann Hower, director of the Office of New Student Programs (ONSP).
"Student veterans, whether they have seen combat or not, face a major transition when switching from military life to college life," Hower, who is coordinating the new set of activities and services, told regents. "Not every veteran experiences the transition the same way but often it involves feelings of isolation and a loss of camaraderie, changing roles in relationships, mental and physical health concerns, feeling alienated from other undergraduates and the need to process a different perspective on the world."
As a result, student veterans call for greater access to accurate and timely information, streamlined processes for accessing educational benefits, more transitional support programs, academic credit for training, and supportive, veteran-friendly policies and procedures.
Substantial insight on the needs of student veterans has come from students like Derek Blumke, a junior at LSA and U.S. Air Force and Afghanistan veteran who in fall 2007 founded the Student Veterans Association at U-M. He then expanded the organization nationwide and now serves as president for chapters at 90 campuses.
"We are particularly grateful for Derek's advocacy," Hower said. "He is to be commended for his leadership on campus and on a national level."
Initiatives implemented in the last 11 months include:
• Hiring U.S. Air Force Veteran Philip Larson as a transition specialist at ONSP to coordinate services for student veterans;
• Forming the 11-member Council on Student Veterans under the leadership of Monts;
• Creation of the Student Veterans Assistance Program, which provides resources, referrals and advocacy services;
• Introducing the Veteran's Connection, www.vets.umich.edu, a Web site that houses information on services and educational opportunities offered at U-M; and
• Starting the Student Veteran Campus Network to connect prospective, new and current student veterans to a campus network of advocates.
"The veterans and military members living, working and receiving their education in Ann Arbor are a valued and vital component of our campus community," Hower said. "We recognize and honor their sacrifices and value their life experiences as they broaden the diversity of our staff, faculty and student body."