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UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Counseling for Student Veterans on Campus

In the past year, there has been high level of effort by several groups and students on campus to provide better service to veterans who are studying at the University of Massachusetts Boston. It is often the mental health of veterans that does not receive sufficient and readily available care. Recently, several programs that focus on the issues that veterans encounter have offered to provide free counseling at UMass Boston. However, up until last week, the administration could not accept such proposals because there is a lack of adequate space on campus. Last Tuesday, right on Veteran’s Day, it was revealed that an area on the fourth floor of the Campus Center would be transformed into the “Veteran Center of Excellence.” It would serve as a general area for Veterans Affairs. By opening the center, counselors would be able to have a dedicated space where they could help and support veteran students.

Seeing as how UMass Boston is a university that offers many benefits to veterans such as tuition waivers, more than 700 former military personnel are currently seeking a degree. However, even though the veterans are working towards a bright and successful future at UMass Boston, many of them suffer from mental health problems that developed during or after their service. Therefore, veterans are usually required to attend counseling sessions with an assigned and certified counselor in order to receive the benefits. However, it might oftentimes be difficult to balance work, studies and counseling in everyday life.

So far, UMass Boston offers support for veterans mainly through the William Joiner Institute. The latter organizes workshops, music therapy programs and other support specifically for student veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), substance abuse problems and other issues. First and foremost, the institute focuses on the expressive arts, such as music, writing, and drama, to approach veterans’ mental health issues and eventually overcome them.

However, the actual assigned counseling sessions for veterans are not yet offered on the UMass Boston campus. Even though UMass Boston offers general mental health counseling through the University Health Services Counseling Center at the Quinn Administration Building, the school’s counseling is not focused and specialized in veterans’ mental health. This is understandable because UMass Boston is not a school with only students with a military background. Undergraduate Student Senator, student veteran and Program Assistant at the William Joiner Institute, Tony Martin, explained in an interview with the Mass Media that the school’s health services are “not equipped” to specifically counsel student veterans on a long-term basis.

Yet another problem is that many student veterans at UMass Boston have to travel longer distances to attend their mandatory counseling session, according to Martin. “The average commute time is easily 1.5 to two hours”, he adds. “This adds unnecessary stress” to the the already weakened mental health of the veteran students.

That is why Senator Martin is one of the active supporters to bring programs, such as VITAL, to the campus in order to meet the veteran students’ needs better. VITAL, or Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, is a program that is known for helping veterans succeed as students. It also brings services for veterans directly to campus, for example, on-campus clinical counseling.

Senator Martin points out that it is important to counter the lack of counseling because most veterans who do not get any support cannot process their traumatic experiences in a positive way and transition into civilian (and student) life. According to the latest report by the Department of Veterans Affairs on veteran suicide, an average of 22 people with a military background commit suicide each day; that means that every 65 minutes a veteran kills him or herself. That is why it is important to provide enough and closely available resources for veterans to turn to, “so that when they ask for support, it’s there,” as Martin asserts.

“It is not an impossible thing to do,” emphasizes Senator Martin. He explains that all the on-campus counselors on campus need is a dedicated, quiet space. “What we are working on with Vice Chancellor Overton is to get counselors on campus here,” he stated before the plans for building the center were revealed. Additionally, the Director of the William Joiner Institute, Thomas T. Kane, was also an active supporter for this plan of additional direct counseling on campus. As of now, there will be three to four health care providers that would be willing to come to campus and offer free counseling sessions to all veteran students.