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Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital

 

Bedford VA’s VITAL Program Helps Student Veterans

Secretary Bob McDonald meets Bedford Vital Staff

Secretary Bob McDonald meets Bedford VA Medical Center VITAL program Peer Specialist Rahsaan McLellan, VITAL program Coordinator Alisa Bennett and Dr. Valene Whittaker during the Secretary's visit in March 2015.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

For Veterans who have left the battlefield and entered the classroom, college can be an especially stressful time adjusting to new routines, class schedules and new environments.

Without proper resources and support, dealing with issues like reintegration, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression can cause student Veterans to drop out of school at a much higher rate than other students.

Bedford VA's Veterans Integrations to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program is addressing Veterans' needs for specialized support at several Massachusetts colleges and universities.

VITAL is a national VA health initiative helping returning Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Veterans transition to and succeed in college. The program also serves Persian Gulf War and Vietnam War-era Veterans and is available to all Veterans. This is accomplished by providing world-class health and mental health care to support Veterans' successful integration at colleges and universities.

Until VITAL was launched, many students had trouble accessing the G.I. Bill to pay for tuition and books, and were unaware of the VA health and mental health benefits they have earned by their service.

“It filled a hole for us. It couldn't have come at a better time,” said Pam Flaherty, the Dean of Students at Middlesex Community College with campuses in Bedford and Lowell.

As the War in Iraq wound down, Flaherty said Middlesex Community College went from having 145 Student Veterans to 450 in 2011 and nearly 600 Veteran students in the 2014-2015 school year.

Flaherty said Middlesex Community College's VITAL is located in the Veterans Resource Center where student Veterans can speak with other Veterans who understand feelings and issues related to transitioning out of the service.

The VITAL program provides:

•Treatment for adjustment, stress, anger, depression, anxiety, sleep problems and PTSD.

•Referrals and coordination with university disability services to request academic accommodations.

•Support with University processes regarding academic actions and/or conduct issues.

•Assistance with enrollment and care at Bedford VA.

•Help obtaining benefits, resources and vocational rehabilitation from VA.

•Support to obtain and use assistive technology devices such as hearing aids and screen-reader software.

•Support to develop student Veteran Peer Groups

Alisa Bennett, the VITAL program coordinator at the Bedford VA said VITAL programs are located at Middlesex Community College, North Shore Community College, (Danvers and Lynn), Bunker Hill Community College, Salem State University, Northern Essex Community College, and Mount Wachusett Community College. She said Bedford VA hopes to expand the program to Northeastern University, UMASS Boston, and Endicott College later this year.

Bennett said the Bedford VA VITAL team has also started one of the first “TeleVITAL” sites in the country using Telehealth to improve access to care.

For more information about the VITAL program, contact Alisa Bennet at 781.983.2400 or go to http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/studentveteran/vital_programs.asp

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