Military and Veterans Services Office

Ohio State recently opened a new administrative unit focused on serving the needs of our students who are in the military or who are veterans of military service. With input from Col. Mike Carrell, our new director, I wrote an editorial column for a military veteran focused publication out of Cleveland, called the DD 214 Chronicle, that described our new effort and the Office of Military and Veterans Services, which reports to the Office of Undergraduate Education. The article, titled “Ohio State Responds to Needs of Student Veterans” is excerpted starting in the following paragraph below, or a PDF version of it can be read online at http://go.osu.edu/dd214

I have been on the faculty at Ohio State for quite a number of years, teaching both at the graduate and undergraduate level. I started in administration in 1991, first as a director of a research center on campus, and then as a department chair. In that capacity, I encountered several military and veterans issues, including student deployments and activations as well as military personnel returning to campus. A little over 3 years ago I was tagged to be the Dean of Undergraduate students, with responsibilities that spanned both the academic and the student life of all undergrads on campus (nearly 50,000). Included in my direct reports were the ROTC programs and student advising, both with a strong military student commitment.

As soon as I took office, I was made keenly aware that the support for our military and veteran students was good in some areas, and not so much in others. We had launched a “veteran’s only general education course program”, that allowed the cohort of students to attend, study and interact with like-experienced students in writing and narrative courses. We had an excellent counseling and consultation program, our student health program was good, we had a veterans learning program, and we were just launching a “veteran’s house” living environment, a transitional residence for several dozen returning vets. But all of these services and programs were uncoordinated and spread over several different areas of our campus.

Additionally, our previous veterans service office was established in 1991, when we served only a couple of hundred students. We had 1.75 people in the office processing the GI Bill benefits applications, but also overseeing the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action functions for all veteran employees of the University. They fielded calls, connected with the VA and other services, responded to student complaints, etc. As the number of veterans returning to campus increased (we had 1776 vet students last year, and nearly 2000 this year) and as we see more dependents coming as a result of Post-911 financial benefits, these 2 people were overwhelmed.

As “luck” would have it, the commander of our AF-ROTC detachment (Col. Michael Carrell), which reported to me, retired, and I was able to set aside some funds to hire him on a part time basis to do a thorough analysis of our situation and to bring forward a plan to establish a Veteran Resource Center that would coordinate all of our efforts for vets, and to provide a single “gateway” for students and families of vets as they returned to student life.

He assessed the programs of all of our peer institutions, looked at all the services we offered, connected with our Vets4Vets student organization, participated in a Veterans Services Task Force that we established, comprised of reps from all of our vet services groups, met with VA and representatives from both the military and the government. He looked at the impact of programs such as the Post-911 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon program, and the State’s GI Promise, and made predictions of the increasing need for focused services.

As a result of his report, I recommended to our Provost and President that we establish a Military and Veterans Services Office. This recommendation included several “must-haves”:

  • The Office should be located on campus proper
  • The Office would not need to own all resources, but should definitely be representative of and coordinate resources across OSU
  • We needed to integrate the existing veteran services personnel, but expand the numbers
  • There is a need for some former military members/veterans to be part of this office
  • The Office’s leaders should ideally have backgrounds in military/veterans issues, higher education, and strategic planning with the most important skill being able to coordinate across departments/colleges at a high level

From this recommendation, we identified six fundamental responsibilities of the Office:

  1. Seamless integration of VA & Military benefits & pay and processes
  2. Academic Success (our guiding focus!) – this encompasses academic guidance, counseling, and assistance, as well as academic support mechanisms throughout OSU, including, but not limited to Academic Affairs, University Exploration, Service Learning, The Colleges themselves, Student Life, Enrollment Services, and The Medical Center.
  3. Positive Transition to both Civilian Life and College – includes Military & Veterans Orientation and First Year Experience (FYE), Student Advocacy, The Office of Disability Services, and Career Counseling, but also necessitates partnership with national, state, and local agencies in and around Columbus such as the VA.
  4. Internal Liaison to the University – includes education and training on military and veterans’ issues to faculty and staff; building collaboration in areas like the current Veterans Task Force, and future opportunities such as partnering for a faculty conference, building a faculty & staff mentoring group both for students and our over 1000 university employees who are veterans, and reporting to University officials, the campus press, and all constituents
  5. External Liaison and University representation – includes the VA in Columbus, the State Department of Veterans, Columbus city veterans efforts, the Board of Regents in both providing knowledge/expertise as well as supporting the Government Affairs, Public Relations, and Institutional Research and Planning offices, among others, that routinely are tasked with military and veterans issues and questions.
  6. Senior Leadership Advice and Consultation – including fundraising and development offices

We are locating the office in our Student Services Building, a centrally located facility where all of our student financial aid, admissions, registrar, bursar, and first year experience offices are located. It will be on the first floor, with excellent handicap accessibility. It will be fully staffed, and also integrate over a dozen student work-study veteran students, funded by the VA. It will not house all of the disparate services, but will be a central access point for referrals to our counseling, health services, student learning centers, etc. We have built in space for reps from the VA and for a dedicated academic advisor in addition to the expanded benefits processing staff. The office will maintain the same access as all of our other student services offices. In addition, we are planning for a veteran’s lounge at a different space on campus, which will include a space for vets to congregate, study and socialize, with expanded access hours.

Visit the Military and Veterans Services website at
http://veterans.osu.edu 

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