Success is Vital

New collaborative program helps veteran students succeed in higher education

Veterans who interrupted or delayed their education to serve in the military often find it difficult to transition to college life, but a new program from the Veterans Health Administration is helping these veterans succeed. Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) is a collaboration among universities, student veterans groups and the VA. The program connects these students with their local VA medical centers, where they can get the services they need while in school.

VITAL coordinators link student veterans to mental health counseling, VA health care and other benefits, as well as campus and community services and resources.

For campus leadership, faculty, staff and nonveteran students, the VITAL program provides education about military culture and specific mental health issues as a way to remove the stigma often associated with veterans returning to civilian life.

“Programs and services that help veterans successfully transition from the military to college can open the door to success,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine. “DAV has been working with student veterans groups on college campuses to ensure veterans have access to all their earned benefits. That has helped relieve the financial and emotional burden for so many of these students and their dependents.”

The VITAL program served more than 50 colleges in 2012 and expanded to 64 schools in 2013. Some schools have lounges for veterans where they can study, relax, spend time with friends or meet with a VITAL counselor.

According to the VA, student veterans are growing in number. More than 660,000 undergraduate students in the United States are veterans, who tend to be older than their classmates and have vastly different life experiences. According to the VA, only 15 percent of student veterans are 18 to 23, the traditional ages of college students.

As of last April, the VITAL program provided face-to-face support to nearly 6,000 student veterans, helped more than 900 enroll in the VA health care system and held 300 training and education events for campus leadership, faculty, staff and nonveteran students.