Helping student veterans succeed

BGSU is one of the first schools in the country to offer mental health services online

Helping student veterans succeed

BOWLING GREEN, O.—The transition from military to college can be a tough one for many student veterans. A new mental health program administered by the Veterans Health Administration at Bowling Green State University is aimed at easing that transition, specifically with the diagnosis and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS), Mental Health Service has partnered with the University through its Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, or VITAL Initiative, to offer Telemental Health (TMH) services to student veterans. BGSU is one of the first schools in the nation to have this program in place.

“BGSU is for all intents and purposes a rural school compared to other schools and their proximity to VA facilities,” said Eric Buetikofer, recruiter and transfer adviser for Nontraditional and Transfer Student Services. “The closest is a Toledo outpatient clinic and that’s a 35-minute drive. It can be a big barrier for veteran students when it comes to receiving the appropriate mental health care. It’s pretty huge for BGSU to pilot the program. We’re the only school in Ohio doing it.”

BGSU is using clinical video teleconferencing to offer PTSD screening and care. The student veteran uses a secure Internet connection equipped with a login and password to connect to a Skype-like session with a mental health professional from the VAAAHS. All sessions take place on campus in a private room equipped with a white noise machine.

Navy veteran and BGSU senior Doug Deprest was one of the first students at BGSU to use the service, and called it a positive experience. The 29-year-old sport management major from Roseville, Mich., came to BGSU after serving four years as an operations specialist.

“I really like it; I don’t have to drive to Toledo, Ann Arbor or Detroit. I can do it right here in BG over the computer, so it’s really convenient,” Deprest said. “The people I’ve been talking to have been great. It’s been a really positive experience for me.”

Deprest has seen firsthand the struggles that can come with military service.

“I had someone right under me in the Navy who committed suicide, and a few other fellow sailors whom I knew do the same thing once they got out of the Navy. I know it’s not an easy transition for us. When you’re in the military you don’t have time for emotions. They do suicide prevention, but it is not enough. Anything I can do to bring awareness to something that can help my fellow veterans, I will. Let them know it’s a positive, safe, and good place to go for help. That they’re really trying to help you and you can really open up.”

“We really want to let incoming student veterans as well as current BGSU student veterans know that this is a program we’re offering and how it can help,” said Brittany Powers, VITAL Initiative coordinator at BGSU. “The program is currently targeted at providing PTSD evaluations and treatment, and while some won’t meet the criteria specifically for PTSD treatment, we can talk about the other kinds of treatment options offered through TeleHealth, or at the Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

“Transitioning to school from the military is hard. You don’t have that camaraderie, you don’t have your family and your unit, and you’re trying to go to school with traditional students. There are a lot of things we can help with, not just PTSD treatment.”

“BGSU has a veteran program that takes care of the whole student—not just getting into school and making sure they’re doing well in class, but making sure they have the necessary support network to concentrate on the schoolwork, be financially stable and have good mental health,” said Buetikofer.

BGSU student veterans can contact VITAL case manager Brittany Powers, LMSW, at brittany.powers@va.gov, or call 734-548-3452 for more information.