A powerful tribute to the fallen soldiers we remember this Memorial Day is how we support those who made it back.
As the Afghanistan War — the United States’ longest-running conflict — comes to an end, millions of veterans are returning home with profound medical, social and financial needs. Demands for aid touch every single state and include our college and university campuses.
The University of Arizona, which has historic connections to all military branches, is at the forefront of supporting student veterans in their academic success and workforce preparation. Recently, I was invited to share our efforts with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on economic opportunity. It was an honor to go to Washington, D.C., and share details on how we’ve grown our programs for veterans, which is a major point of pride for the UA.
In 2008, fewer than 200 student veterans had newly enrolled at the university. We knew we could do better. Our nationally recognized Disability Resources Center and Adaptive Athletics Program helped initiate what has become an institutional-wide focus to develop best practices in service to student veterans. And our numbers have grown significantly. We now have more than 1,300 student veterans enrolled at the university.
The UA has introduced two Veterans Education and Transition Services centers. One of the centers, specifically supporting those pursuing careers in the health and medical sciences, is the first of its kind in the nation.
Student veterans also have become more actively engaged on and off campus. Our Student Veterans of America chapter regularly collaborates on community service work designed to facilitate student acclimation and success. And at the UA James E. Rogers College of Law, student veterans and faculty members launched the Veterans Clinic to aid military veterans dealing with legal problems.
The UA also has strengthened its partnership with the Southern Arizona VA Hospital, leading to expanded on-campus counseling for student veterans and the launch of Supportive Education for Returning Veterans. That program offers for-credit courses in leadership and resilience, contributing to our ability to improve retention and graduation rates among veterans.
And concerned with workforce readiness and job placement, our Veterans Education and Transition Services office works closely with Career Services to help student veterans find and apply for jobs.
All of this in six short years, and it all began with a moment of reflection — much like the reflection we have today on this national holiday, and with the reintegration of veterans in communities across the U.S.
As our veterans return, often dealing with emotional and psychological distress and feelings of social isolation, we are reminded that their well-being is tightly connected to the health of our communities.
At the University of Arizona, we are driven to support our veterans. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that after years of service, our military veterans receive the attention and regard they have given us, and that they have the opportunity to realize the kind of life that a college education can bring — a life they fought to preserve for all of us.