Posted: August 24, 2006
Contact: Doug Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 651-201-1426
A new initiative has begun assisting thousands of military veterans returning to Minnesota's colleges and universities to complete a higher education program and successfully resume civilian life.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs received a $600,000 annual appropriation from the Legislature to establish and run six regional veterans assistance offices. Donald Pfeffer, who developed the veterans center at Central Lakes College, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, will direct this statewide effort under a contract with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. The initiative is being funded for five years.
The regional offices, which opened Aug. 14, will assist all 32 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the University of Minnesota and other colleges enhance services and programs for veterans and their families. Specifically, the veterans assistance offices will provide information, resources and referrals about veterans benefits, the Montgomery GI bill, psychological assistance and physical injury support.
Six regional coordinators will work with faculty and staff to identify and remove barriers for veterans to successfully completing a college education.
"Often, veterans who attend college have unique issues that deserve some special attention," said Clark Dyrud, Minnesota's commissioner of veterans affairs. "Coming back from combat is especially challenging. With the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities' excellent track record in serving veterans, this approach offers an efficient way to meet the needs of the men and women who have served in our military, and particularly the individuals returning from Iraq and Afghanistan."
The six regional offices will be based at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Lake Superior College in Duluth, St. Cloud State University, Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota State University, Mankato and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
"Although the 32 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities have a long and proud history of serving veterans, we are grateful that the Legislature provided additional funding for us to improve existing services," said Chancellor James H. McCormick. "Many veterans face personal, relationship, education and employment issues upon completing a tour of duty in the military. The enhanced services will go a long way toward ensuring that veterans adjust to college and return successfully to civilian life."
Each of the six institutions housing an office will make its own significant investment by providing office space, supplies and equipment. Some institutions within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have established veterans centers or clubs. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities opened a veterans center in 2005.
Donald Pfeffer, coordinator of the Central Lakes College veterans center, has been hired to direct the statewide effort. "The need to expand programs and services for veterans coming to our campuses has become increasingly apparent," Pfeffer said. "Veterans' families also may need help while their loved ones serve overseas and when they return home. By supporting that family, we support the military member." An estimated 70 percent of the members of the military are married.
"Our colleges and universities can help veterans connect with each other. Sometimes, just talking with others who have been in the military and share common experiences can ease their transition," Pfeffer added.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 8,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard have been mobilized for overseas duty. At least 3,000 Guard members are expected to return from Iraq next spring, which will be the largest one-time release in the state's history. Thousands of other Minnesotans who have been in the regular branches of the armed forces or in military reserve units also are completing their service and going to college.