ACE Member Institutions Adopt Programs to Support Veterans
November 10, 2020

As we commemorate Veterans Day and those who served, ACE is proud to highlight a selection of our members’ work geared toward helping veterans succeed on their campuses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Transitioning to a civilian life can be a challenge, and many college and universities offer programs to help address some of the unique obstacles veterans face in the area of mental health and well-being. The University of Texas at Austin (UT), where 365 veterans received military educational benefits last fall, is one of many institutions participating in the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) Program. VITAL is a Department of Veterans Affairs initiative whose mission is to improve the overall mental health of Veterans and support their successful integration into college life by helping them access VA healthcare services and on-campus clinical counseling.

Student Veteran Services Director Jeremiah Gunderson, who served in the U.S. Army, understands the military perspective and works as a liaison between UT faculty and his students, points out that veterans can face moments of existential crisis when becoming students.

“Why am I here?” Gunderson said when reflecting on their perspective. “I was leading troops in Fallujah in the Marine Corps, and now I’m sitting here in a classroom with a backpack, and I just feel silly.”

Women veterans can face additional burdens as they seek a college degree. At Indiana University Bloomington (IU), Sarah Bassett serves as the first outreach coordinator for women veterans. As a veteran and IU alumna herself, Bassett knows first-hand how isolating serving can be for women and she hopes to build a community of women to offer students the support and network that they need.

At The Ohio State University, a team of students serves as veterans community advocates to help integrate veterans in campus activities. Outreach and community connection have faced more challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Ohio State hopes that its focus on providing counselors who are dedicated to serving military students and trying to expedite therapy can help their mental health.

In addition to serving its student populations, Emory University works to help veterans in our communities. Since 2015, Emory University’s Healthcare Veterans Program offers intensive outpatient treatment. The program has assisted over 2,300 post-9/11 veterans and service members suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, depression, and anxiety.

Project coordinators quickly recognized the developing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and pivoted to add a remote intensive outpatient option to expand access to veterans across the country this spring.

Emory’s program is part of the Warrior Care Network, a national initiative funded by the Wounded Warrior Project that works to meet the needs of thousands of post–9/11 veterans, regardless of their ability to pay.

According to the Veterans Affairs Department, about 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD.

“PTSD is a disorder of avoidance,” said Barbara Rothbaum, professor of psychiatry and director of the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program. “Traditional treatments for veterans with PTSD have a dropout rate of around half. Our program has a 90 percent completion rate.”

Rutgers University–Camden also offers a public program to assist veterans with sharing their stories from service. The university’s Writers House and Philadelphia-based Warrior Writers have hosted “Outside the Wire” jointly since 2017.

The program offers monthly writing workshops, public events focusing on veterans’ experiences that feature prominent journalists and scholars, and an exhibit of wartime communications. For the past two years, the program also received the support of an action grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH).

“NJCH’s continued support makes it possible for the Writers House at Rutgers–Camden to help facilitate reflective exploration of service members’ experiences, for both veterans themselves and for civilians who may otherwise be distant from military life,” said Leah Falk, program coordinator for the Writers House. “As with many of the programs that NJCH supports, this program also emphasizes the use of the humanities in understanding the varied experiences of being American.”​