Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Serving Our Military Heroes

On Saturday, March 4, 1865, at his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln spoke of providing support and services for the veterans of the Civil War. Lincoln concluded his address in 1865 summarizing his belief that the United States should provide for those who served in the Civil War. He stated as a country the United States should “… care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan…”

Nearly 150 years later higher education is faced with this charge for our post 9/11 military veterans. The challenge begins with the vast and varied needs of our military veterans. ACPA has identified meeting the needs of our veterans and their families as a priority. Past ACPA President Tom Jackson and I, along with the leadership within ACPA have listened to our membership in seeking to address these challenges. The need grows each day as more and more veterans are making the decision to change their lives through education.

With the approval from Congress, on August 1, 2009 the new GI Bill era began. The new GI Bill covers up to full tuition and fees for in-state public universities in addition to financial support for housing and books for post 9/11 veterans who decide to pursue a college or university education. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) expected a significant increase in the number of veterans returning to school due to these increased benefits. We have certainly witnessed such an increase here in Rochester, NY, not only at Monroe Community College (MCC) but also at our neighboring institutions, in addition to the entire State University of New York (SUNY) system.

The military and the US Government made a monumental step in attempting to meet the financial needs of these veterans transitioning to the role of students. But this is just a hint of the challenges and obstacles these students and their families may face.

Researching the policies and regulations in addition to the best practices and narratives on this subject matter brought me to the VA website. The quote I referenced above from Abraham Lincoln was brought to my attention while researching the VA website. I found the Mission Statement, Vision, and Core Values all to be reflective of our goal to assist veterans through a successful transition and experience on our college and university campuses. I ask that we reflect on these as we consider how our campuses can better meet these needs. The VA lists the following about their department (found online at http://www4.va.gov/about_va/):

VA Mission Statement
To fulfill President Lincoln's promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.

To provide veterans the world-class benefits and services they have earned - and to do so by adhering to the highest standards of compassion, commitment, excellence, professionalism, integrity, accountability, and stewardship.

Core Values
Compassion: We will treat all veterans and their families with the utmost dignity and compassion. We will provide services in a caring manner, with a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Commitment: Veterans have earned our gratitude and respect. Their health care, benefits, and memorial service needs to drive our actions

Excellence: We strive to exceed the expectations of veterans and their families. We strive to perform at the highest level of competence and take pride in our accomplishments.

Professionalism: Our success depends on maintaining a highly-skilled, diverse, and compassionate workforce. We foster a culture that values equal opportunity, innovation, and accountability.

Integrity: We recognize the importance of accurate information. We practice open, truthful, and timely communication with veterans, employees, and external stakeholders. By carefully listening and responding to their concerns, we seek continuous improvement in our programs and services.

Accountability: We will perform in a manner at all times that makes us accountable, responsible, and answerable to veterans and their families, our leaders and other employees as well as external stakeholders.

Stewardship: We will ensure responsible stewardship of the human, financial, and natural resources as well as data and information entrusted to us. We will improve performance through the use of innovative technologies, evidence-based medical practices, and sound business principles.

I trust that each of us can share our belief in these statements found on the VA website. But we also know that words or programs identified by the VA alone cannot meet all of the needs of our students. These are students who at times wear both the emotional and physical scars of war and conflict, scars that we cannot always visually identify.

There are a handful of resources available online that provide a deeper understanding and further insight into our goal to best serve our veterans and their families. I hope to share more in the future but I wanted to provide a brief list of articles I feel are worthy of our attention. They provide insight and perspective from various points of view:

1) POV: Veterans Returning To College Aren’t Victims, They’re Assets By Peter Katopes
2) Valuing Veterans By Rose Sachs and the CTC Team
3) Soldiers in the Classroom By Mike Rose
4) Course to help transition veterans into civilian life By Stacy Quillen-Armstrong

Among the online resources that I found the most touching was “Half of Us.” For those of you not familiar with this website it is an online resource focused on depression and similar mental health topics faced by college students every day. It also has an area dedicated to military veterans. The site includes first person accounts from veterans as they return to college. I encourage you to visit this website at http://www.halfofus.com.

This conversation will continue as we support our heroes as they take the next steps in their lives as college students.

Dr. Susan Salvador
ACPA President 2010-2011