Guest Blog: Make It Count

By Student Veterans Association President and CEO, D. Wayne Robinson.

As you settle into the new semester, make it count by lending a helping hand

20140817_SVASeattle2014-62[1]By the time you’re reading this, classes have started up on college campuses around the country and the semester is in full swing. The scene is much the same as in years previous: syllabi have been handed out and summarily discarded, students justify ignoring the professor with a PowerPoint presentation they’ll wait to open until the night before the final, and the lecture halls have stratified themselves into the barely conscious in back, and overly alert and eager in the front.

You may notice one difference, however. Around campus and in among the mixed enthusiasm in the classroom are a handful of veterans. You may also notice that that handful is just a little bit larger than the few you spotted last semester, and the one before. This is no coincidence, and it isn’t unique to your campus.

Since the attacks of September 11 2001, close to 3 million veterans have served in our armed forces[1], and all will soon have returned to their homes and communities. Of those, roughly a third have been and are expected to take advantage of their GI Bill™ benefits[2]. That’s a lot of degree-seeking veterans, and chances are, they’ll end up being your partner on a group project, or the guy who holds open the lecture hall door for you.

With the passage of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, student veterans have their pick of any public institution nationwide, as long as they take advantage of their benefits and enroll within three years of service separation.  This has dramatically broadened their educational options, which means that the handful you encounter now will soon fill out more of the classrooms around campus.

SVA-Leadership-Conference-San-Diego-20140809-289[1]As the presence of this population grows, so too does the need for on-campus, veteran-focused resources. We at SVA stress the importance of peer-based support through our ground-up chapter structure employed on 1,100 campuses nationwide (and growing), and projects such as our VetCenter Initiative. While camaraderie and shared experience is indispensable to the long-term success of student veterans, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Some of these veterans will come with wounds both visible and invisible, with internal struggles and physical barriers, but all will need you to go that extra mile.

These struggles and disabilities look different for each veteran, and often are not visible. This can be aggravated when environmental barriers and a lack of on-campus supports prevent physical, academic, and social access to veterans who aren’t always aware of their disabilities. Add intensive military training that inhibits self-care and negative stereotypes into the mix, and the formula for failure is complete. With a bit of mindfulness, however, equal access need no longer be accommodated.

A truly veteran-supportive campus is one where both familiar faces with familiar experiences can be counted upon to empathize, and unfamiliar faces with vastly different backgrounds are willing to strive for understanding and cooperation. A kind word, a friendly nod, or a heartfelt handshake can speak volumes to a struggling student veteran.

The same can be said of the campus’ administration. Support services provided in a non-stigmatizing, encompassing manner can make a world of difference. “The key to engagement lies with positioning support services as part of a team effort for all students to achieve success, not as a remedial effort for individuals expected to fail,” says The NASPA Foundation, in a study[3] demonstrating that the content of service programs matter just as much as the delivery.

With backing from peers, and a welcoming student body and accommodating administration, student veterans have the tools to make sure they have the same opportunity to hang their prohibitively expensive diploma in a $14 frame as everyone else. So, whether it’s on the way to class, cramming in the library, or grabbing some lunch in the dining hall, make your semester count by lending a hand to a student veteran.

For more information on our programs and initiatives, or to find a chapter near you, please visit http://www.studentveterans.org.

Guest Blog: Enhancing Veteran Engagement at College

By Madeline Wagner, Associate Director of Grants and Contracts- Northeast Iowa Community College, Vet2Vet Peer Mentoring Program

Student veterans bring new experiences and perspectives to social and educational exchanges at a college – however, they also face unique challenges in completing their academic and career goals.

There are myriad reasons that veterans decide to pursue higher education:

  • College degrees or certifications improve career options
  • It’s an opportunity to build additional skills, and
  • Higher education codifies skills and knowledge achieved in the military.

Furthermore, higher education can offer a transition period as well as resources and assistance in the move from military to civilian life. In support of these goals, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has provided over 700,000 veterans financial support for education and housing (U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014); unfortunately, just over half of student veterans earn a degree or certificate (Altman, 2014).

To realize these benefits of higher education, student veterans must overcome certain challenges or barriers that traditional students don’t encounter. Schools nationwide have been developing a range of resources to help student vets reach their academic goals. There is no one answer to how a school should support this student population – and it won’t happen overnight.

Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) has earned a place on the Military Friendly Schools listing, compiled by G.I. Jobs magazine, for five consecutive years, but there are still many pieces to put into place before we reach our goals of comprehensive support services for our student veterans. Central to NICC efforts to assist student veterans in their academic and career goals is the Vet2Vet Peer Mentoring program, which recently became a chapter of Student Veterans of America.

Many student veterans report a sense of alienation when they join the college world. A supportive learning environment can ease the transition process. NICC recognizes that some veterans may feel disconnected from the mainstream of the student body. Community building with students, faculty, and staff who have had similar experiences is one strategy to increase engagement. Student veterans groups offer positive experiences and opportunities to interact with the broader campus community that help veterans to transition smoothly from service to the classroom.

In the 2013-2014 school year the Vet2Vet group partnered with two other student organizations to conduct awareness and inclusion activities on campus including a presentation about how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) impacts returning veterans and their families and an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) demonstration in observation of Veteran’s Day.

Beyond a supportive community student veterans may need assistance in navigating resources to address issues that are non-academic in nature, but still impact academic achievement. Currently at NICC, the Vet2Vet peer mentors (who are discharged veterans, students still serving on active duty, or members of the National Guard or Reserve) are the first line of assistance in helping student veterans connect with Veterans Affairs. Supported by the campus coordinator of disability services, the Vet2Vet staff helps student veterans fill out forms to secure medical resources, connects student veterans with campus services, and provides referrals to other outside organizations.

Ivan Torkelson, District Director, American Legion of Iowa Foundation, Elgin; Amy Tharp, student scholarship recipient and US Air Force Veteran, Fredericksburg; Dr. Liang Chee Wee, NICC President. 

Ivan Torkelson, District Director, American Legion of Iowa Foundation, Elgin; Amy Tharp, student scholarship recipient and US Air Force Veteran, Fredericksburg; Dr. Liang Chee Wee, NICC President.

It’s important for a school to determine which services should be crafted as veteran-specific. Some services (such as academic advising) may not need a veteran focus because the entire student population benefits (American Council on Education, 2012). It is also important to remember that not all student veterans will want to take advantage of targeted services, or be identified within the broader college community as a student veteran.

In the upcoming year NICC will build its commitment to student veterans by taking the following steps:

  • Providing faculty and staff with veteran-friendly service training
  • Codify policy regarding student veterans’ leaves of absence
  • Building a web presence for veterans
  • Exploring the need for a dedicated veteran services staff member
  • Working with other state higher education institutions to develop firm credit-for-prior-learning standards
  • Partnering with statewide veteran-friendly initiatives such as Home Base Iowa

What services and best practices have your organization found most helpful in supporting student veterans?

A Project That Can Help Change the World

As mentioned in our post about Clarence, the young veteran with traumatic brain injury, DVNF is working with the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), to raise money for a new piece of equipment they really need.

Please view this presentation for more information on the amazing work that Dr. Rory Cooper and his team at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories are doing for disabled veterans.

This is your opportunity to contribute to a project that not only helps disabled veterans, but also empowers them, employs them, and allows them to advocate for others with disabilities!

 

As a reminder, if you donate to this project, every single penny you donate goes directly to purchase this equipment for HERL! Please share this post on your social media pages so we can get the word out!

 

Clarence: An Inspirational Story on Overcoming Traumatic Brain Injury

Clarence

Clarence

Meet Clarence.

Clarence is the young veteran working at the mill machine in the photo you see above. He has been out of the military for 3 years now, having served in combat right out of high school.

Clarence is currently finishing out the Advanced Inclusive Manufacturing (AIM) program at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) at the University of Pittsburgh. This program is one that teaches veterans like Clarence the basics of machinery, which will give them a leg up in a high-demand field.

Clarence suffered a major traumatic brain injury (TBI) during a deployment. Now he has a form of visual agnosia, in which he lacks the ability to visually recall images in his mind. He told us during our visit to the HERL lab that remembering how an object should look when he is working on a project is a challenge because his lack of visual recall.

The good news is that Clarence was hardly feeling defeated by this drawback. Actually, he was very upbeat when telling us about it. Though he can’t picture in his mind how to do something, he instead draws a map for himself as he goes that allows him to complete the task.

Clarence completed his military service at age 22. The native Texan spent time at his home in Austin, focusing on his medical treatment. He told us that while he was readjusting, he was feeling somewhat demoralized.

He said he had several friends his age who had also finished their military service, and, as he described, “did nothing but sit around and play video games, and sometimes get mixed up in drugs.”

“My options were limited in Texas,” Clarence said. “I saw so many of my friends fall into the same trap of drugs and laziness. I knew I needed to do something better than that. I was working on getting better, but never lost ambition.”

And Clarence could have fallen into that trap. He was an intelligence analyst in the military and he had a top-secret security clearance. His goal after his service ended was to enter a similar civilian post as an analyst. Unfortunately, he lost his clearance as a direct result of his brain injury. Once that happened, he wasn’t really sure what to do.

As fate would have it, the VA hospital where Clarence was getting his treatment became less accessible due to the sheer number of veterans in need of treatment. Clarence took a trip to the Pittsburgh VA for a while so he could get the specialized treatment he needed. It was there that he met Dr. Cooper.

Clarence was used to working with his hands. He told us that he grew up hunting and fishing and loved every second of it. He decided to enter the Experiential Learning for Veterans in Assistive Technology Engineering (ELeVATE) program, where he would learn the basics of machinery, and would later move on to the AIM program.

Clarence had a new outlook on things. He was capable of working machinery, and had plans of his own. Given his love of bow hunting and archery, he wanted to do something that would allow others with disabilities to enjoy that same rush that he got with a bow in his hand. He told us that his goal is to take his training from HERL and manufacture adaptive archery equipment.

IMG_4181

This is just one example of the tremendous work that Dr. Rory Cooper and his team at HERL are doing for veterans with disabilities. Not only are they training veterans in a high-demand field, but they are also teaching them coping mechanisms to overcome their own disabilities, while encouraging these veterans to take what they learn and work for the benefit of others with challenges.

DVNF has partnered with HERL to purchase a new lathe. A lathe is a basic piece of machinery that is one of the keystones of basic engineering. Many devices are made from a lathe, so it only makes sense that their lab would teach these veterans how to use a lathe.

The problem is that their lathe is a piece of World War II surplus equipment! Unlike most of the devices in their lab, this machine is anything but modern, and they told us that it is hard to teach veterans how to use it.

HERL's current lathe (top), and an example of what a lathe makes (bottom)

HERL’s current lathe (top), and an example of what a lathe makes (bottom)

This is an example of what most of the lab's equipment looks like!

This is an example of what most of the lab’s equipment looks like!

So we are going to help Dr. Rory Cooper and his team to buy a new lathe. We will give them the $50,000 necessary to purchase it, so that veterans can learn this valuable skill, and take their training on into the real world and help other veterans in need.

When you donate to this initiative, every penny will go into the purchase of this machine. In addition, your donations are tax deductible, and you will also get the satisfaction of helping veterans to learn valuable career skills, to cope with disabilities, and to advance the cause of helping others with disabilities!

Please visit this page and see how important this project is to so many people, and make your most generous donation today!

New Video: Wounded Warriors Appreciate Your Support!

DVNF recently attended the Marine Corps Trials in San Diego so we could support the wounded warrior athletes competing at the event.

20140307_162439

DVNF CEO, Joe VanFonda (SgtMaj Ret.) poses for a photo with a wounded warrior.

We went to the event as an outreach opportunity to interact with these wounded veterans and to let them know about our programs and services and that we have a supportive base of donors who appreciate all of their sacrifices!

DVNF provided the wounded warrior participants with care kits, towels, bedding materials and water. But that wasn’t all! We also gave $10,000 worth of Visa gift cards to express our sincere appreciation for the inspiration they provide to so many, and to also help out with any expenses during the Trials.

They seem to have appreciated this outpouring of support, and thanked both DVNF and our donors for backing their efforts in the Marine Corps Trials in this video:

Thanks to all who have contributed to DVNF and the veterans we serve! This event was so incredible that we plan to attend the Warrior Games this September in Colorado Springs. Donate today and help us to continue support these heroes!

DVNF January ENewsletter: New VIDEO EXCLUSIVE

DVNF Launches “On Any Given Night” Video to Boost Awareness on Veteran Homelessness

Last year, homelessness amongst veterans decreased, which is great news. However, there is still so much work to be done on this front. To help increase awareness, DVNF has launched a powerful video that depicts the facts surrounding the American crisis of homeless and struggling veterans.

Please watch the new DVNF Video “On Any Given Night” to learn the facts around our veterans in crisis and how DVNF is making a difference. Also, please subscribe to our Official YouTube channel here to see more videos of ongoing activities of DVNF!

GIving Thanks and Spreading Holiday Cheer! DVNF Board Members Visit Walter Reed

For the past three years, DVNF has been fortunate enough to visit Walter Reed National Military Medical Center just before the holidays to visit with wounded warriors recovering from injuries suffered in battle. DVNF continued this annual visit on December 21st with board members Mike McNaughton and Lynda Waldroop.

During the visit, 200 Visa gift cards of $100 were given out to wounded service members recovering at the facility. The holiday gift cards, totaling $20,000, are the DVNF’s way of giving thanks to these members of the armed forces for their selfless service to the nation and to help brighten the holidays for these individuals and their families.

The sister of one of the servicemen at Walter Reed expressed her appreciation and had this to say to DVNF:

“I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the very generous Visa gift card that I received while visiting my brother at Walter Reed. I know many people are in a much more difficult situation than my family; however, the gift card was appreciated because we have had a difficult year emotionally and financially.”

Grant Spotlight

IMG_8077a VETS-OXBOW (2)

Honoring Our Veterans – If you recall, DVNF gave a grant last year to the Wyoming-based organization, Honoring Our Veterans. This is an outstanding organization that provides rehabilitative and recreational therapy to OIF/OEF combat-wounded veterans. DVNF’s grant helped 22 veterans heal in this program through water sports, fly fishing, horseback riding, and hunting therapy in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming area.

June WW

Veterans who attended this program said that it would change their lives forever. One veteran said that the program showed him that “Love and caring can truly outweigh anger and bitterness.” Powerful statements such as this show the importance of organizations like Honoring Our Veterans, and also demonstrate why help from groups like DVNF are essential to funding their outstanding veterans programs.

To all of the donors and supporters of Disabled Veterans National Foundation, we sincerely thank you for all you have done to support our veterans and our foundation in 2012. We vow to keep up the momentum of the work we are doing for veterans, and with your help, we can make 2013 even more successful than last year!

Sincerely,
Precilla Wilkewitz

*If you haven’t signed up for our ENewsletter, visit http://www.dvnf.org/resources/register-for-dvnf-enews/ to get information and updates on what is happening at DVNF!