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News : Education Dec 12, 2013 - 1:51:17 PM

Norwalk Community College helps returning veterans

By Norwalk Community College

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NORWALK, CT - Norwalk Community College is making it easier for returning veterans to succeed in college and get back into the workforce.

NCC is the only college in Connecticut to have signed a full Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Veterans Health Administration to offer the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program on campus for students who are veterans.

VITAL is a new initiative of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help veterans succeed in college and inform them of VA benefits, programs and resources.

Its mission is to provide world-class healthcare and improve the overall mental health of student veterans, while supporting their successful integration into college and university campuses through seamless access to VA healthcare services and on-campus clinical counseling.

By entering into the “full” VITAL partnership, NCC is offering the most complete range of services for student veterans of any college in the state.

NCC values the sacrifices and contributions made by Connecticut veterans. The college offers them free tuition and a wide range of services to help them succeed academically and achieve their life goals.

VITAL focuses on several areas: the transition from being a service member to being a veteran, academic leadership and empowerment, and reducing or eliminating any stigmas about military service. Outreach activities consist of:

Training college faculty on military culture

Coordinating with Student Veterans of America and other student veteran organizations

Assisting campuses with the creation of support programs

Providing onsite mental-health counseling

Case management and enrollment into VA programs

Educating veterans on benefits available to them.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, student veterans are growing in number on college campuses. More than 660,000 of undergraduate students in the U.S. are veterans.

Many returning veterans have difficulty returning to civilian life, notes Scott Smith, a Veterans Service Associate at Norwalk Community College, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq.

“Whether you served in a war zone or pushed papers, going from a high speed military lifestyle to civilian life requires slowing down and learning to prioritize, since there is no one to report to (anymore),” Smith said.

Additionally, vets who have interrupted or postponed their education for active service find it difficult to return to a college routine. They tend to be older than their classmates and have vastly different life experiences. According to the VA, only 15 percent of student veterans are traditionally aged college students (18-23).

Norwalk Community College has opened a Veterans Lounge where veteran students can study or relax, spend time with friends, or meet with a VITAL counselor like Amy Kaplan.

Kaplan is a certified social worker who spends up to two days a week at NCC helping returning heroes navigate the maze of federal benefits and expedite their paperwork. She also offers career guidance and helps connect them to a network of local employers who’ve expressed in interest in hiring vets. As a VITAL representative and trained counselor, Kaplan is able to cut through red tape.

“She is an intermediary between the veteran and the Veterans Administration. It’s rare to have a partnership like that,” Smith explains. “Vets will get help faster. They can get access to healthcare, therapy, physical therapy, or see a doctor.”

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