Military veterans soon will be receiving a career and vocational boost with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and MTSU.
The VA and MTSU are entering into a partnership called VetSuccess on Campus. MTSU will become the first university in Tennessee and one of only 16 nationwide to be a part of VetSuccess.
MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Travis Kraft, acting director of the Veterans Affairs Nashville Regional office, signed a formal memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, March 13, at 1 p.m. in the Sam Ingram Building’s first-floor conference room.
“Our mutual goal is to ease the transition of veterans from combat to campus,” McPhee said. “We will work together to provide veterans a more supportive campus environment and easier access to benefits such as academic advice, financial aid, career counseling and peer support.”
McPhee added that MTSU is the No. 1 choice of Tennessee veterans and, for the second year in a row, G.I. Jobs Magazine has named the University a “Military-Friendly Campus.”
Kraft said this will be “a true partnership that’s going to allow us to provide better service to our veterans. … We’ll take this model and use it as an example to set up at other universities in Tennessee.”
Heather Conrad, a Veterans Affairs counselor from Nashville, will work at MTSU starting April 2.
Conrad’s role will be to provide on-campus services including but not limited to career counseling, vocational planning. She also will act as a liaison to help answer questions on VA Chapter 33 and other VA benefits, Kirchner said. In addition, Conrad will work directly with the University’s Chapter 31 vocational rehabilitation veterans, Kirchner added.
“This is a wonderful program that’s virtually free to MTSU,” said Cathy Kirchner, University registrar, who added that MTSU will provide the office space (room 201 in the Cope Administration Building) while the VA will pay her salary and buy supplies and equipment.
“I’m excited,” said Conrad, who has worked for the VA for 15 years. “… This is an amazing opportunity to be a part of the campus culture, helping veterans adjust to the civilian world.
“A veteran coming out of the service generally will be in their late 30s or early 40s, who will need a lot of adjustment to ease that transition (into college). They need a warm attitude and approach. I will be there to support their needs to the best of my ability. I won’t just give them a 1-800 phone number. I’m going to get on the phone or the Internet and make calls, if necessary, for them.”
Bettye Hodge, vocational rehabilitation and employment officer for the Veterans Affairs Nashville Region, joined Kraft and Conrad at today’s MOU signing.
University Provost Brad Bartel, Associate Vice Provost David Cicotello, Lt. Col. Tharrel “T.K.” Kast and Kirchner joined McPhee as MTSU representatives at the signing. Kast serves as professor of military science, directing the University’s ROTC program.
McPhee acknowledged several officers and executives representing Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston, adjutant general of Tennessee and an MTSU alumnus. They included Lt. Col. Jim Reed; retired Navy veteran John Patterson; retired Army veteran Mike Goodrich; John V. Patterson, Family Assistance Coordinator for the Tennessee National Guard; and Maj. Andy Ashley, education services officer for the Tennessee National Guard and a company commander, and a 1992 MTSU graduate.
MTSU presently has “992 students receiving GI benefits,” Kirchner said, adding that more than 1,000 students received GI benefits last fall. The spring semester total includes 80 vocational rehabilitation veterans.
The Registrar’s office has a dedicated staff of two full-time employees, Ray Howell and Gerry Craig, and seven student employees who work diligently to certify veterans’ benefits in a timely manner, Kirchner said.
“At MTSU, we are fortunate to have so many administrators and faculty on campus working to help veterans in the areas of advising, filing for GI benefits, course selection and vocational counseling,” Kirchner said.
Conrad will be working closely with the first-year Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which includes 19 faculty, administrators and the president of BRAVO, MTSU’s student veterans organization. Dr. Tony Johnston, a U.S. Army veteran who remains active in the Tennessee Army National Guard and is a School of Agribusiness and Agriscience professor, serves as committee chair.
VetSuccess began in June 2009 as a pilot project at the University of South Florida. Three months later, VetSuccess expanded to Cleveland State University and San Diego State University. Texas A&M University-Central Texas was among two community colleges and three four-year schools adding VetSuccess in October 2010.
For more information about VetSuccess, visit http://vetsuccess.gov/online. Starting Monday, April 2, call Conrad at 615-898-2974 or email email@example.com to ask questions or schedule an appointment. Until then, she can be reached at 615-983-4364.