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USF president, Veterans Affairs secretary to meet

University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft has accepted an invitation to meet with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to discuss how to accommodate veterans with mental health issues and criminal records.
Published Jan. 6, 2016

TAMPA — University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft will meet with the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to talk about veterans issues.

Genshaft has accepted an invitation to meet with VA Secretary Robert McDonald to discuss how to accommodate veterans with mental health issues and criminal records. McDonald sent a letter to Genshaft last month asking to talk about what he called "more work to be done" on that front.

"The University of South Florida shares your commitment to the reintegration and education of our veterans," Genshaft responded. "There is nothing more important to the university, and to me personally, than providing a path to a productive future through education while maintaining a safe environment for all of our students."

Though their correspondence doesn't mention him, McDonald's interest in USF was sparked by the case of former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Clay Allred, who was expelled from the school last year after his 2014 arrest for threatening a Tampa gas station clerk with a rifle and firing shots into the air.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, a friend of McDonald's from their time in West Point, presided over Allred's case in the county's veterans treatment court and has been pushing USF to re-admit him as an online student so he can finish the 17 credits he needs for a bachelor's degree. Experts concluded Allred's alcoholism and crime were connected to his post-traumatic stress disorder from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a traumatic brain injury he suffered in a stateside car crash.

To admit him, though, the university would have to make an exception for the former Green Beret or change its expulsion policy. Allred missed the deadline to appeal his expulsion, rendering it permanent, according to USF's policy.

Genshaft offered to give McDonald a tour of the school's Office of Veterans Success if he was willing to come to Tampa. The university partners with the VA to offer services through a VetSuccess on Campus program.

McDonald sent a brief email in reply.

"I would love to visit you on one of my trips to South Florida and learn more about what you have done to be so veteran-friendly," he wrote.

It was unclear Tuesday when the meeting would happen. In his initial letter to Genshaft, sent Dec. 22, McDonald asked to meet "in the next several weeks." Assistants to Genshaft and McDonald will work to schedule the meeting, USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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