VA’s VITAL Program Offering a "Battle Buddy" for Student Veterans

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2018

Many veterans – whether they are new to civilian life or have been separated for years – often struggle with a negative stigma associated with asking for help. Whether it is real or all in their minds, the fear of being seen as “weak” can make them feel alone in their struggles, prevent them from receiving well-deserved assistance, or simply separate them from an understanding peer when one is needed most.VA’s VITAL Program Offering a "Battle Buddy" for Student Veterans

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and other veteran-focused organizations are geared toward removing these barriers and helping veterans navigate the unfamiliar challenges they may encounter in the civilian world. Learn more about one such program, the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program, which centers specifically on helping veterans achieve more success in their post-military education endeavors and is finding an effective tool is setting up an educational “battle buddy” system.

VA's VITAL Program Offers a "Battle Buddy," Helps Student Veterans

The VA's VITAL Initiative is a program currently available in 25 medical centers and sites across the U.S. and focuses on assisting veterans in post-military education programs by helping with the transition to civilian life, teaching them how to use military skills in their career, developing new skills and improving the quality of life for themselves and their families.

One of the key components of the program is a mentoring system that matches a student veteran with a VITAL staff member who is also a veteran. The VITAL mentor has received specialized training in his or her state’s educational system, VA procedures and processes, available veteran services and high-level counseling concepts, like suicide prevention and red flags. Participants in VITAL are finding that being able to talk one-on-one to another veteran who has most likely experienced much of what the student veteran is going through makes it not only easier to ask for assistance but more effective in finding the right kind of support the student might need.

VITAL mentors are assigned a student veteran to work with and regularly reach out to check on how he or she is doing, not only in schoolwork but in more general elements of life as well. Mentors help in a wide range of ways, such as helping the veteran enroll in VA health services to maintain healthier lives, helping navigate procedures associated with the GI Bill, answering questions, or simply just being a listening ear in time of difficulties.

Many educational institutions supporting the VITAL program act as “veteran embassies” on campus, as growing evidence suggests that veterans benefit greatly from having a physical, “safe” location where they can stop in to meet with people who understand what they are going through as student veterans. Additionally, many of these VITAL outreach locations can also provide a wide range of VA services on-site, including counseling and health services, so the veteran does not have to go all the way to a VA clinic.

The VITAL program also collaborates with student veterans to help with:

  • Acquiring in-classroom adaptions for physical and other needs (from adaptive seating to note-taking assistance or additional test-taking time)
  • Addressing mental health issues like the adjustment to civilian life, anxiety, depression, substance abuse etc.
  • Connecting with health providers for issues involving PTSD, TBIs and other injury-related needs
  • Recognizing and getting professional help as needed for the red flags of suicide prevention
  • Skill improvement and techniques for stress and time management

Additionally, the VITAL program serves as a resource for educational institutions and faculty, to help them better understand and serve the student veteran.

Through faculty and staff training, faculty can better understand military culture, be more mindful of classroom interactions, increase understanding and even learn how to interact with the VA as needed in support of their student veterans. By promoting this understanding, faculty and staff can learn more about how understanding the unique experiences of veterans can impact performance and retention.

With these support tools, student veterans can achieve more success in their scholastic endeavors and develop habits and techniques for creating a happier, well-balanced civilian life.

Knowing their VITAL buddy has their back can be enough support to help them fight through the difficulties and persevere in life after the military.

Written by Megan Hammons

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