Sara Diedrich, DiedrichS@missouri.edu
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Kevin Owens knows the pain of being a student veteran struggling with mental health issues.
After Owens completed six years with the U.S. Air Force, he returned home to Arkansas and enrolled in a community college. The problem was his college was located an hour away from the veterans’ hospital where he was receiving health services. Consequently, Owens often sacrificed his mental health to keep up with his classes.
Today, Owens, 28, a senior majoring in meteorology at the University of Missouri, doesn’t have to choose between going to class and receiving the health services he needs. He can do both and never leave the MU campus.
The new Mizzou Veterans Wellness Center — housed in the MU School of Law Veterans Clinic in Hulston Hall — is a partnership between the MU Veterans Clinic and the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. The collaboration is designed to make accessing health resources for veterans easier for student veterans, faculty, staff and their families. Eligible veterans will receive on-site, clinical mental health services and assistance with referrals to Truman VA and appropriate community agencies.
“By signing this Memorandum of Understanding with the Truman VA, we are doubling down on our commitment to success for our more than 270 student veterans,” Chancellor Alexander N. Cartwright said. “We are committed to providing these students the essential services that facilitate the type of excellence they deserve, and the type of excellence that we stand behind as Missouri’s flagship university. I am proud to be a part of this historic partnership.”
With the help of licensed professional attorneys, law students at the MU Veterans Clinic already help veterans and their families navigate the VA benefits system. The Mizzou Veterans Wellness Center will provide space for VA specialists to meet with veterans in a welcoming environment to talk about their mental health needs and to assist them with case management, enrollment assistance and advocacy.
“This joint venture is an innovative collaboration between the University of Missouri, its law school and the local VA health care system to promote wellness for veteran students, faculty and staff,” said Lyrissa Lidsky, dean of the MU School of Law. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity to give back to those who have served our country.”
Randall Rogers, a psychologist in the behavior health department at Truman VA, said many student service members and veterans have unique characteristics that can make life on campus more challenging compared with their non-veteran peers.
“They tend to be older when they enroll in college and more likely to be married and have children or be single parents,” he said. “They also are twice as likely to work while taking classes and to have a disability. Veteran students can feel out of place on campus and may have difficulty with their peers who are younger with vastly different life experiences. We want to make it as easy as possible for student veterans to get mental health treatment by offering services on campus.”
The new Mizzou Veterans Wellness Center opened earlier this month. Veterans are also served by the MU Veterans Center, located in Memorial Union. The center, launched in 2007, was recently expanded to include space for student veterans to socialize, study and connect with resources as they transition from the military to academia.
MU was recently designated a Purple Heart University in recognition of the university’s support of military members, including veterans and their families. Nearly 900 MU students are either veterans, active duty personnel, National Guard members, reservists, ROTC cadets or family members receiving GI Bill benefits. About 500 faculty and staff identify as military veterans.