Americans are only just beginning to understand some of the serious difficulties that face soldiers returning home from the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But officials at the University of South Florida, possessed of an understanding born of that institution's prior work with Vietnam-era vets, are eager to help this new generation of veterans. That experience is paying off as USF, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will be the first campus in the country to house a program offering veterans who are students the compassionate support they need to succeed in school and beyond.
The one-year pilot program, called VetSuccess on Campus, creates an office at USF in Tampa where two VA counselors will work closely with all veterans who are USF students. The counselors will help veterans access their GI Bill educational benefits, locate VA housing, get educational or occupational advice, and find help for medical or mental health problems. The Department of Veterans Affairs, in the midst of a makeover encouraged by President Barack Obama's call for a modernized, vet-centric department, hopes that USF's effort will be the model for a nationwide VetSuccess on Campus program.
The pilot project landed at USF through the efforts of president Judy Genshaft and other college officials who wanted to continue USF's long tradition of serving veterans. When Congress voted to update the GI Bill with expanded benefits for soldiers who were on active duty on or after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, USF knew that a wave of returning veterans would be using those benefits to launch or continue their college educations. College officials began talking about ways to serve that population's special needs. Meanwhile, the VA was looking for a university to launch the VetSuccess program. Their partnership is the happy result.
USF is uniquely positioned to serve veterans and direct them to services. Both the James A. Haley VA Medical Center and MacDill Air Force Base are nearby. USF has the 10th largest enrollment of veterans and their dependents in the country, which means there is an existing community of veterans to provide a supportive network for returning soldiers.
The United States has demanded much of its troops, and the toll on them has been heavy. Thanks to the VA-USF partnership, veterans enrolling at USF will get much deserved help to smooth their re-entry into life at home.