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Universities, colleges taking steps to ease veterans’ transitions

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Universities, colleges taking steps to ease veterans’ transitions

Pamela Stewart, a history lecturer at Arizona State University, wondered why a male student continued to stand up and walk around during her one-hour class. Then the student explained: He was a war veteran coping with a service-related trauma.

That encounter led Stewart to attend a recent ASU seminar helping faculty members understand and assist with a veteran’s transition to a university environment.

“We ought to give them the opportunities so they can have success in the name of what they’ve done for our nation,” she said.

On this day, Stewart and about 20 others heard from Robert Stockman, a psychologist and director of the Phoenix Vet Center, who said that while faculty members shouldn’t automatically connect veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, a complex clinical diagnosis, they should look out for warning signs, such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, wariness or the urge to leave.

Instructors usually won’t see these symptoms in great intensity, Stockman said, but may notice subtle expressions of them that could be signs of what he called “sub-PTSD.” In some cases, the veterans may just be struggling with the difficult task of turning off the hyper-alert survival senses produced by military training and combat, he said.

Having someone a veteran can talk to usually is all he or she needs to deal with the stress of a college education, Stockman said.

“If they have a support system, like they do at ASU, then that will mitigate most of the detrimental effects of stress,” he said. “Where we find problems is veterans who are isolated and don’t have access to any kind of resource or support.”

Christian Rauschenbach, program manager of ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center, said the seminar was intended to promote further communication and understanding among the faculty, center and student veterans. The center, located on the Tempe campus, provides students with resources and connects them with fellow veterans.

“Without the understanding, some of the things they (faculty) are seeing just won’t really make sense,” he said. “I don’t want them to think the vets are just disruptive students.”

It’s one of many ways Arizona’s colleges and universities are providing support for veterans dealing with health and psychological problems related to their service.

This month, funded by a federal grant, the University of Arizona Campus Health Service established space for three counselors from the local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care center to offer services twice a week.

Chris Guerrelo, one of VA counselors, said it’s helpful to be closer to the UA’s student veterans.

“If we are going to be in a position to support vets we need to be where they are, and if that includes being on campus we want to make sure we are going to support them, not only in their readjustment but also their education,” he said.

Mesa Community College established a program called EARS, or early alert referral system, for faculty members who become concerned with a student veteran’s behavior. Instructors can send an email to counselors explaining what they observed.

“This is in place so instructors are not necessarily dealing with the situations themselves,” said Aaron McKee, director of student educational services. “We say we’ll get you assistance from someone professionally suited to deal with these situations.”

For academic support, student veterans at MCC will have the opportunity to register for a “Strategies for Success in College” course this spring. McKee said the course is designed to help veterans get back into the mindset of school and studying since most have been away for years.

“It’s really just a transition point,” McKee said.

David Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah, co-conducted a study earlier this year showing the rate of suicide attempts among student veterans was six times higher than among other college students.

“They feel remarkably isolated on colleges campuses, so they feel different than the traditional college student because of their life experiences and specifically those that have had combat exposure,” he said.

Rudd said it’s important for colleges to have student veteran support centers.

“If campuses don’t already have those I would really encourage them to consider investing in the creation of those centers because this is going to be a problem for another decade or more given the numbers of people that have fought in these wars in the last two years,” he said.

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