Pilot program VITAL service to student vetsWritten by Maggie Dziubek | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Navigating the bureaucracy of veterans services is notoriously complicated, but thanks to a pilot program called Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL), it’s a one-stop shop for student veterans at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University to access their benefits.
Brittany Powers is a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) social worker who has been managing the VITAL program for the Ann Arbor regional office since its inception in 2011. She manages the program for seven schools, including UT and BGSU. In the past year she has helped connect over 125 students to VA health benefits via the VITAL program.
Instead of the time-consuming process of seeking out each benefit individually, the VITAL program brings together the full spectrum of VA services into a single access point on campus.
“Most student veterans are there on the GI Bill, but we find that a lot of veterans aren’t as active in seeking out health care,” Powers said. “We want to meet student vets where they’re at.”
Corey Carter is a sophomore in economics at UT and a veteran. He was connected to Powers and the VITAL program through the university’s veterans affairs office and he is now enrolled in VA benefits programs.
“Before I met Brittany, I probably had a list a mile long of frustrations with the VA,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of organizations that want to help veterans, but each only handles little pieces of the pie. The VITAL program really helped me out. It took less than an hour, and doing it on my own could have taken weeks.”
Doug Deprest is a Navy veteran and a senior in sports management at BGSU. He met Powers on a veterans night at a Falcon football game. He took advantage of remote mental health care via Skype, a VITAL program at BGSU that is unique in the area.
“I came out of the Navy and started school right away,” Deprest said. “On the initial meeting they evaluate whether you have post-traumatic stress disorder, and I didn’t have that, but I know there were some other things going on.”
Through the VITAL program, Deprest is able to access the counseling and therapy he needs over Skype on BGSU’s campus.
Derek Atkinson, a public affairs officer for the VA in Ann Arbor, said the VITAL program is part of a shift in focus at the VA.
“It really highlights what VA is doing to sort of step outside of the box,” Atkinson said. “They were a federal island — now they’re out in the community really doing things.”
Powers said the program has been working well, but hopes it will expand.
“Right now the program is just me,” she said. “I would really like to cover every college campus within our area, and I’d like to cover every university equally. To do that, we would need more staff. For right now we’re just in the beginning stages of showing that the program works.”
Students interested in learning more about VITAL can contact Powers at (734) 548-3452 or email@example.com. She is available by appointment at UT and has regular Tuesday office hours at BGSU’s office of Nontraditional and Transfer Student Services.