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The Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education at the U of Illinois

Posted on 
January 26, 2022

Written by Adapted by Paul Wieland from an article in Military Advanced Education

The Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education is unique in academia — there is no facility like it at any other American college or university. The University’s College of Applied Health Sciences (AHS) at the Urbana-Champaign campus has a long history of serving students with disabilities. In mid-2015, with an influx of veterans, AHS opened the 14 million dollar Center with 4 full-time professionals and numerous student volunteers; to date, 100-plus veterans have registered. Fourteen third-floor suites are equipped with various assistive technologies for students with severe disabilities. The Center is grateful to the Chez Family Foundation and donors that built the complex (including our own Jo Puccini), and continuing donations will permit the Center to operate in perpetuity.

The Center uses its “Comprehensive Model for Academic & Transitional Success of Student Veterans” that was adapted partially from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Health Administration’s Polytrauma System of Care. Disabled veterans survey identified needed services, and the campus Student Veterans Organization provides insight into resources that enhance veterans’ employment success. The model has four core service areas: academic, health, career, and veteran and family.

Student veterans confront several transitional issues: unrealistic expectations, a lack of community, an absence of civilian hierarchy and limited career guidance. Key themes assist veterans in adapting to a large, university involving difficulties interacting with younger, traditional students, pursuing romantic relationships and choosing courses. When registering, students complete an application and interview with the Center’s clinical psychologist who screens for potential difficulties with academics, social functioning, and mental/physical health. Then the services offered by the Center, the campus, and the VA are reviewed with each student, and an individualized plan of care and case management is developed.

The Center also offers therapy for behavior health including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuropsychological assessment is provided to determine cognitive strengths/weaknesses and to diagnose psychological disorders. Workshops teach students to cook nutritious, quick meals. Trauma- sensitive yoga is offered, and financial workshops help students create budgets. The Center is located an hour from a VA clinic, so the Center and VA created a partnership whereby the VA provides weekly services at the Center that include social work, mental health, speech pathology, and physical therapy.

Finding a job is the main reason veterans attend college. Many need assistance exploring various careers and developing an academic plan. Discussions begin when veterans arrive on campus. The focus is on their resume that will be continually refined while they learn how to articulate their military skills to a civilian employer and how to interview.

AHS and the Center are proud of the unique facility and the dedicated staff that assures that disabled veterans receive the best education possible. For additional information and how to donate to this highly rated facility, con- tact Paul Wieland for a brochure of the Center’s services or visit their website.

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