BOSTON (SHNS) – There are more than 3,600 veterans attending public higher education institutions in Massachusetts, and a state lawmaker from Westford is pitching a bill he says will help those students and active-duty military members transition to life on campus.
Rep. James Arciero’s bill would task the University of Massachusetts Medical School with implementing a continuing education program to train counselors at state colleges and universities in recognizing and responding to post-traumatic stress disorder in active-duty and veteran students.
Arciero, whose brother and brother-in-law served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee on Tuesday that more than 750,000 veterans have used their education assistance benefits to enroll in college courses in the past decade, and that veterans will become “a major part of the future workforce of the Commonwealth.”
“As such, their transition to civilian life, college and the workforce are critically important,” he said in prepared testimony. “Some college campuses may be more equipped to deal with the needs of student veteran populations assimilating to civilian life better than others. However, uniformity of counseling for all our state universities and community colleges will give these veterans the critical resources they need and deserve.”
Under Arciero’s bill (H 3897), counselors would receive training on military culture and its influences on psychology; “deployment cycle stressors”; outreach strategies; available PTSD resources and referral methods; and the symptoms of depression, suicide, deployment-related insomnia, substance misuse.
UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins said in a statement that the school would be “pleased to help ensure that state colleges and universities have the necessary training to help ease the transition for returning men and women who have so admirably served our country.”
Middlesex Community College President James Mabry, who spoke in support of Arciero’s bill on Tuesday, said in written testimony that Middlesex serves approximately 250 veterans between its Lowell and Bedford campuses, and that Department of Higher Education data put the number of veteran students across the state’s higher education system at more than 3,600.
Mabry said Middlesex “started to see larger numbers of veteran students returning to our campuses” between 2007 and 2009 after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The school created Veterans Resource Centers, he said, where staff members who are often veterans themselves meet with veteran students to hear their stories and determine what resources exist to help them.
“It is incumbent upon us in higher education to continue to make public higher education an affordable and accessible option for our students, and to do our best to help our students succeed,” Mabry said. “To help these students, our veterans, who have served our country and are looking to further their education, we need to be there for them. This bill will ensure that we can provide the quality services they need to integrate into our campuses, and then to transition into the civilian workforce to pursue careers.”