Gov. visits Veteran Support Center, discusses expansion

Governor Steve Bullock joined a handful of campus administrators during a visit to the Veteran Support Center on Nov. 10. He thanked veterans for their service and emphasized the importance of expanding the resources MSU offers to veterans. “Veterans Day — it’s on one hand a time to reflect on your service and commitment to our country but it’s also, from my perspective, a time to really say we need to double down on our commitments and promises made to you when you agreed to serve our country,” Bullock said.

President Waded Cruzado highlighted the importance of veteran’s education at MSU. “They [veterans] have been very focused on a mission of God, nation and family . . . now the mission has to be doing something for themselves. At this point the mission has to be going back to school and it’s time for us to make sure that not only they enroll at MSU but that they graduate from MSU.”

The Veteran Support Center was opened in the fall of 2011 when a hallway was refurbished to create a 750 square-foot-room. The center has been heavily utilized as the number of veterans at MSU has increased 78 percent since 2009, growing from 325 students to 579 this past fall. This growth is expected to continue and the Montana University System (MUS) predicted that the number of veteran students is going to double in the next five years.

Brenda York, director of MSU’s Office of Disability, Re-Entry and Veteran Services outlined the progress and accomplishments that have been made within the Veteran Support Center and discussed areas they could improve if they could increase space size.

If the academic renovation of Romney Hall, which is the number one building priority of the MUS for the 2015 legislative session passes, then the center would be relocated to Romney Hall. Ideally, the center would double in size and the additional space would be utilized to create rooms for group study, private rooms for one-on-one meetings, space for workshops and more overall space for studying, support services and meetings.

York noted that there are normally 20 – 30 people in the Veteran Support Center and during peak times it can reach up to 45 people or more, causing some people to leave due to the cramped space.

The discussion highlighted the advancements the Veteran Support Center made as a result of the funding that was received in 2013 for the Veterans Success Initiative. MUS provided $1 million for the initiative and those funds were distributed among the Montana campuses.

York outlined the various ways MSU used the money from MUS. A relatively new and successful program to result from the funding is a mentoring program where student veterans mentor other student veterans. The program, which was established this fall semester, has two mentor leaders and nine mentors with 54 mentees.

Funding also went towards partnering with Counseling and Psychological Services to dedicate a counselor, Chip Kern, to provide free counseling with the veterans. York emphasized the importance of having one designated counselor to work with the veterans and build an ongoing relationship with the center. “Veterans will talk but you have to get them to talk and trust people before they do it,” York said.

“It’s an incredible center, one which President Cruzado and I both agree could be much larger,” Bullock said.