KALAMAZOO--Veterans transitioning to college life will be able to tap an array of new services to help them succeed, thanks to a decision by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to locate a VetSuccess on Campus program in southwest Michigan.
Speaking at Western Michigan University, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton announced today that the VA has selected WMU, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Kellogg Community College to jointly host a VetSuccess on Campus site--one of only 12 in the nation and the only one in Michigan. The program is geared to providing the kind of supportive campus environment required to meet the veterans' unique needs and challenges.
Combined, the three schools now serve about 1,000 veterans. Securing the new program, which has been a yearlong effort, will enhance the ability of the schools to serve additional veterans and help the VA identify and reach out to veterans who may not be using the full range of benefits for which they are eligible.
"We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the brave men and women of our armed forces. They have sacrificed so much and deserve all the resources to succeed back here at home," said Upton. "The VetSuccess program will be a great resource for our area's returning student veterans who are transitioning from active duty to life on campus. I applaud the continued leadership of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo Valley, and Kellogg Community College in meeting the needs of those students who have so honorably answered their nation's call to duty."
The VetSuccess on Campus program, which was launched in mid-2009 as a pilot project, supplies campus sites with an experienced, full-time VA vocational counselor and a part-time outreach professional to assist eligible veterans and their families as they access transition-support services, educational benefits, vocational rehabilitation and employment services, disability compensation, life insurance, home loan guarantees, and job placement and health care benefits.
Working with existing personnel who already focus on veteran services on the three campuses, the VetSuccess personnel will focus on enhancing service to veterans as they transition from combat to college life, something all three schools have already established as a priority.
"We're enormously grateful to Congressman Upton for working so hard to make these new resources for our veterans a reality," said WMU President John M. Dunn. "He recognized that as higher education partners in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, our three schools have established a wonderful working relationship that can be leveraged to ensure those who have served our nation are able to take advantage of the benefits they have earned to achieve the success they deserve."
While Michigan ranks 11th in the nation for the number of residents who are veterans, it falls dead last--behind the other 49 states, Guam and Puerto Rico--for the number of vets who use their educational and vocational training benefits. According to the VA, support services through VetSuccess are critically needed to serve younger veterans who, because they've completed multiple tours of duty, will need more support than earlier generations of veterans.
"We are dedicated to assisting all students, including our veterans, in achieving their full potential," said Kalamazoo Valley President Marilyn Schlack. "At a time when we need it the most, this new program will allow us to build upon the meaningful assistance we already offer our student veterans and their families."
All three presidents note the natural fit the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek area is for establishing a VetSuccess on Campus program. In addition to a sizeable student veteran population, the area is the site of a major VA facility--the Battle Creek (Mich.) VA Medical Center, which makes medical services, including inpatient and outpatient care, available to more than 217,000 veterans living in the 20-county West Michigan area.
"One of the goals of this program is to make it simple," said Dr. Dennis Bona, president of Kellogg Community College. "The concept of 'one stop' for veterans will hopefully minimize the red tape and confusion for veterans and get them the services they seek without the normal hassle of government programs."
KVCC, KCC and WMU have all been singled out repeatedly by G.I. Jobs magazine as "military friendly schools." Additionally, WMU has been named by Military Times' Edge Magazine as one of the top 50 "Best for Vets" schools in the nation in each of the past two years. KVCC and WMU both are home to longtime chapters of the Student Veterans of America Association.