Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging and stressful, especially when it comes to finding a job or navigating a new career path. As we complete Stress Awareness Month, we bring more resources for our military and veteran students. Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) assists veterans in developing academic and other skills to prepare for acceptance and success in pursuing a college education. Through the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) Office of Veterans Initiatives and Outreach, UMGC staff members help students get connected to VUB and get started with the services offered.
Rebecca Foss, UMGC's director of social media, sat down with Veterans Upward Bound of Washington DC Program Director Curtis Addleman to discuss some of these benefits offered and how military-affiliated students may be impacted by stress as they pursue their degrees or try to get started.
Rebecca Foss: Tell us about Veterans Upward Bound. What type of program is it?
Curtis Addleman: Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) is a part of the Department of Education's TRiO programs. These are Federal outreach and student services programs to help individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. VUB is a pre-college program directly aimed at helping veterans enter, and be successful in, higher education.
Rebecca Foss: So, your program is targeted for people after they do their military service?
Curtis Addleman: That is mostly correct, we really run the gamut as far as the individuals we serve. The criteria to enroll, other than military service, is that the individual needs to be either first-generation college student, low income, or have a risk of academic failure (such as a service connected disability). One of the biggest challenges that our enrollees face is that they've been out of school for, in some cases, quite a while, and in other cases it's been maybe only 5 or 6 years. We mostly work with junior enlisted service members that are transitioning out of the military. Surprisingly, the age range of our target demographic is very wide, our current enrollees range from 24 to 77. Knocking the cobwebs off to get back into an academic environment can be challenging. So, we offer a lot of remedial courses and tutoring to get them set up for success. We have about 500 courses that are in a digital platform, so we'll enroll them in math, science, English right off the bat and say, “Hey, knock these out to get back into the swing of things. We've got a tutor, if you need help.”
Rebecca Foss: As you're talking to veterans, and they've made this decision, or they're looking into going back to school, why are they doing that, and what are some of the challenges they face as they come out of the military?
Curtis Addleman: The military does a great job of training you for a specific job in the military. What it doesn’t always do a great job of is translating that job, or that skillset into the civilian sector. It can take a lot of retesting, re-examination, and in some cases retraining to even utilize those skills. For example, a Diesel mechanic on a submarine, isn’t going to be able to just jump over to Volkswagen and start working.
Rebecca Foss: Can veterans apply their experience toward a degree?
Curtis Addleman: That’s one of the biggest things they're looking for when they enroll with us. They're looking for ways to get their joint service transcript and any other college credits that they may already have applied to a degree. What we do in the VUB office is to help coordinate that effort with—especially in the D.C. area—the D.C. Consortium Universities. With the help of an academic counselor, we compile all of the transcripts, and then reach out to those universities on behalf of the students. We let the universities know what programs they want to enroll in, what they already have in terms of previous college credits or experience to find out what programs will work best for them.
Rebecca Foss: So, it’s mostly veterans completing or starting their degrees?
Curtis Addleman: We get a lot of people that are just trying to bridge that gap between the two sectors and we also get a lot that are in a career transition. So myself, for instance, I'm a 20-year Navy veteran. I retired due to medical issues, and my body just physically can't do the work that I had done for the last 20 years. So I've transitioned from the culinary field into higher education. We get a lot of people that are in that same kind of boat that may have a service-connected disability or other limiting factors that they need to make an entire career change. We work with a lot of the Veteran Readiness & Employment counselors, which is another chapter of VA Benefits, as opposed to the G.I. Bill. We help coordinate those efforts to ensure that they're in an accredited program and a program that meets the goals of their degree path and their future.
Rebecca Foss: Sometimes it can be overwhelming for these folks and they may have other challenges. Do you collaborate with different agencies or organizations?
Curtis Addleman: Yes, we help connect students to anything from mental health to housing and other services. For example, I have a prospective student that has some pretty severe PTSD and one of the biggest issues they have is reaching out for help on their own, or even filling out applications to get assistance. So, we have a standing weekly meeting where we go through all of those items together. We are working on trying to get her a service dog, so she brings me the applications, we go through them together and do all the follow up emails. We work with several other organizations, such as Veterans On the Rise, the D.C. Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, and many others. Another common question we get is about the VA’s disability rating. People want to know how the numbers are what they are and why. So we help explain this to them and can help them make the needed connections to get their case reevaluated.
Rebecca Foss: Dealing with these things can cause a lot of stress, right?
Curtis Addleman: Absolutely. Many of our enrollees are of a generation and mindset that they don't reach out for help, especially older male veterans are afraid to do that. The VA has great benefits, but it can be overwhelming to navigate through them and many of the changes with Congress. You think you're almost there, and then there's another hurdle. It can be very stressful and deflating which can cause people to give up.
Rebecca Foss: You manage the program here in the D.C. area, but Veterans Upward Bound has chapters all over the country?
Curtis Addleman: Yes. There's another program in the nearby area, at Prince George's Community College. There are 65 total programs across the country.
Rebecca Foss: What your organization is doing to help veterans is phenomenal. Is there anything else about the program or any tips you have for veterans that you might want to share?
Curtis Addleman: The biggest thing is that it's okay to ask for help. It's okay to get assistance and guidance through this process. Even the process of applying to school can be a daunting task. We’re here to help veterans navigate that process. So, take advantage of it! You know we're here. We're happy to help, and we can meet people virtually, in our office, or we can even come to them. Our entire goal is to just make their lives better.
Veterans Upward Bound will join UMGC at MilVet Net 2023 on Tuesday, May 2 from 10 am – 2 pm at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The event is open to all faculty, staff, military-affiliated students and alumni, as well as veterans and their families in the Washington, D.C. area. Join VUB along with over 40 other veteran service organizations, employers, and entrepreneurial services. Register to attend MilVet Net 2023.