Oswego State develops veteran initiative

Milton Lopez, a former Army National Guard member and veteran of Afghanistan, is seen here working with Ben Parker, an employee for the Division of Extended Learning, as they plan Lopez’s education. (Photo provided by Public Affairs)
Milton Lopez, a former Army National Guard member and veteran of Afghanistan, is seen here working with Ben Parker, an employee for the Division of Extended Learning, as they plan Lopez’s education. (Photo provided by Public Affairs)

Whether they are enrolling for academics or simply returning home, Oswego State has made a strong commitment to military veterans, as they return to their lives at home.

In the fall of 2012, Oswego State put together a committee of faculty and administration to figure out how the university could make itself not only more attractive to veterans, but also more facilitating to veterans on campus and in the surrounding area.

Fort Drum, a military base in Watertown, N.Y. is home to the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Many of the residents in Watertown are soldiers with extensive experience in the Middle East. Upon returning to the United States, some of these men and women require the assistance of mental health professionals to help their transition back into civilian life. Due to the increasingly large number of veterans returning to Watertown, the area finds itself with a shortage of qualified individuals to help the transition process.

At the request of the Division of Extended learning, Dr. Michael Leblanc, chair of counseling and psychological services at Oswego State, met with resident chaplains at Fort Drum, who requested training in mental counseling services. Following extended discussion, Leblanc and the school produced a six-week graduate level program that is designed to train chaplains and other individuals on how to help returning and veterans adjust to civilian lifestyle. Although initially intended for chaplains, the program is open to others who deal in close proximity with members of the military.

“It kind of prepares anybody who’s gonna be dealing with this population to kind of address the issues veterans face,” Leblanc said, listing trauma, traumatic brain injuries and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as conditions soldiers sometimes endure upon returning home. Leblanc said that the training would help individuals understand and attempt to aid veterans as they deal with these challenging ailments.

Although by no means a guarantee, Leblanc would like to see an expansion of the program beyond the limits of Fort Drum and into the Watertown area.

“There really is a need in that area for mental health professionals,” Leblanc said. “So I think it’s a natural market; I’d like to see us expand there.” C

Currently, the program is being taught by an adjunct professor and licensed therapist hired by Oswego State on the premises of Fort Drum.

Following the formation of committee in the fall and a large number of requests for assistance from veteran students on campus, administration turned their attention to their own affairs.

“We felt as though it was important for us to make sure that we were also providing some more, if not better services to the returning veterans,” said Oswego State vice president and Provost Dr. Lorrie Clemo.

After researching techniques and methods other schools have put into effect for their veteran students, and consulting members of the faculty that served in the military, Oswego State produced its own set of services for veterans.

Ben Parker, an employee for the Division of Extended Learning, was named coordinator of veteran services at Oswego State. Parker, one of the key members of the committee put together by Clemo, was pleased with the school’s response.

“It was something that the administrators were really behind,” Parker said. “They supported what we were doing and granted us what we requested.”

Elaborating on what the school has already enacted, Parker spoke about faculty training that is meant to cultivate awareness in staff of the potential issues that may confront veterans in the college setting.

“A lot of it is misunderstandings,” Parker said, stating that sometimes the distinction between solider and politician is lost, and political feelings are taken out on the wrong people.

The transition from a strict and rigid military atmosphere to a loose and more relaxed college campus can leave veterans feeling out of place, and in some instances, isolated.

“Taking it a step further, there are also counselors who are prepared to aid veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries,” Parker said.

Both Clemo and Parker were happy to have the school named “Military Friendly” in January 2013. The school was awarded for its welcoming policies toward veterans, which include transferrable credits from military training to college, refundable tuition or placing a class on hold in the event of transfer, flexible evening and online classes and faculty workshops to increase awareness and experience in interacting with military service members.

Following Parker’s appointment and the creation of veteran services, Oswego State, with the help of the now permanent veteran’s committee, has created an orientation strictly for veterans and promoted prompt responses to veterans’ requests for assistance through contact with a single individual in the relevant department being contacted. Future plans include the installment of a veteran student lounge that will allow veterans to meet and talk to individuals with similar experiences to their own, the appointment of advisors who specialize in the needs of veterans and an increase in donations to veterans’ funds. Clemo mentioned specifically that she would like to see an increase in financial aid beyond what the government provides. She mentioned that a number of veterans run into financial difficulties despite government aid and she would like for them to be able to remain in school rather than being forced to drop out.

Clemo, Leblanc, and Parker all stated that they hope that these new veteran-friendly policies increase not only the reputation of the college, but also the quality of life for those returning from overseas deployment.

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)