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What’s Next For Student Veterans of America? The National Conference Offered A Glimpse
Last weekend, more than 1,100 student veterans and nearly 600 administrators, business leaders, nonprofit professionals, and advocates came together to celebrate student veterans and more importantly, channel their collective strengths toward future opportunities.
Perfect timing, many would say, given Student Veterans America’s recent decisions to appoint Jared Lyon as the chief executive officer and bring in James Schmeling as the executive vice president of strategic engagement. Once thought of as a mere collection of student organizations across a couple hundred campuses with no national vision or consistency, SVA is elevating its talent and setting course for bigger things to come.
Sure, SVA chapters are the lifeblood of the organization and keep pulse on what’s working and what’s not when it comes to student veterans in higher education. SVA’s mission after all is “To provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation.” But with the number of chapters now topping 1,300 and with 15 new chapters opening every month, SVA leaders recognize they have an important opportunity. SVA can not only shape individual student success, but also, given its access to an important source of information (400,000+ student veterans with all their success and challenges), SVA can shape policies and practices relating to veteran students in higher education.
In his opening remarks at the 2016 national conference, Lyon reminded attendees of his firm belief in “the transformative power of higher education.” At the individual level, SVA can improve the lives of veterans through campus support systems and local resources that facilitate students obtaining degrees leading to meaningful careers. By focusing on increased membership, connecting current students with alumni and cultivating strong private sector partners, Lyon aims to improve the results for every veteran seeking an education.
More broadly, however, SVA leaders recognize their role and opportunities go well beyond the individual student or even campus chapters. SVA’s chairman of the board, Rodrigo Garcia, clearly stated in his conference welcome letter, “Through advocacy, research, programs and our commitment to ensuring that standards of excellence in GI Bill education are met, SVA is enabling service providers, policy makers, institutions of higher education and government agencies to make data-driven decisions about supporting student veterans.”
By learning from the challenges and successes experienced by its members, SVA is sitting on valuable insights that can lead to improved higher education practices for veterans and perhaps validate VA expenditures under the highly coveted, yet costly, Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. In fact, SVA is already working with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Student Clearinghouse to systematically fix the concerns highlighted in a recent Washington Post article that noted more than $400 million went uncollected from veteran students who dropped a class or left school altogether. Additionally, this partnership will release data that more clearly show the academic outcomes — such as persistence, retention, transfer, graduation rates — of student veterans using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Other opportunities may exist for SVA as it continues to mature. First, SVA could serve as an independent feedback mechanism for the VA’s recently expanded program, Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, which has placed hundreds of mental health practitioners on dozens of campuses around the nation. Started in 2011 at five locations, VITAL has grown to a robust network of support on campus, at medical centers, and at 16 veterans integrated service networks. Having a third-party evaluation inform VA leaders on the merits of the program could prove useful in ensuring its future funding and prioritization of services and locations.
Second, as the ratio of student veterans to “others” who attend SVA’s national conference shifts to include more and more businesses seeking veteran talent, could next year’s conference become less about student veteran success on campus and more about post-graduation employment? Admittedly, this is a challenging opportunity. Failure to keep current student-veteran success at the forefront of SVA’s efforts could diminish its ability to improve graduation rates and future employment. Yet the attendance by companies and nonprofit organizations is a strong signal of perceived value. How SVA leverages this shift in the coming years could shape the organization’s strategic goals and long-term vision for the organization and its annual gathering.
Lastly, when I attend conferences or meetings I always like to ask, “Who’s not in the room?” In this particular case, most of the student veterans and higher education staff attending already “get it.” The students are usually in a leadership role in their campus chapters and well on their way to achieving their goals. Administrators, likewise, attend because they already see the value in not only supporting veteran students but also supporting them well. In that light, how can SVA embrace and further support struggling student veterans absent from the national convention and campuses that have yet to recognize their need to support student veterans and families? Outreach and educational efforts to these two populations could be key to expanding SVA’s role and potential impacts.
Although only time will tell if SVA can stay the course and leverage its maturation properly; there are strong indications SVA is just beginning to hit stride. It will be exciting to watch as SVA moves forward in the coming years under new leaders who recognize these challenges and opportunities and further contribute to the success of “Yesterday’s Warriors, Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.”
The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.
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An F-15 is rocking a WWII paint job to honor a B-17 pilot who gave his life to save a wounded crewman
An F-15C Eagle is sporting a badass World War II-era paint job in honor of a fallen bomber pilot who gave everything to ensure his men survived a deadly battle.
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After 70 years, service members are finally filing medical malpractice claims against the US military
Jessica Purcell, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, was pregnant with her first child when she noticed a swollen lymph node in her left underarm.
Health-care providers at a MacDill Air Force Base clinic told her it was likely an infection or something related to pregnancy hormones. The following year they determined the issue had resolved itself.
It hadn't. A doctor off base found a large mass in her underarm and gave her a shocking diagnosis: stage 2 breast cancer.
Purcell was pregnant again. Her daughter had just turned 1. She was 35. And she had no right to sue for malpractice.
A 1950 Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres doctrine prohibits military members like Purcell from filing a lawsuit against the federal government for any injuries suffered while on active duty. That includes injury in combat, but also rape and medical malpractice, such as missing a cancer diagnosis.
Thanks in part to Tampa lawyer Natalie Khawam, a provision in this year's national defense budget allows those in active duty to file medical malpractice claims against the government for the first time since the Feres case.
With the Department of Defense overseeing the new claims process, the question now is how fairly and timely complaints will be judged. And whether, in the long run, this new move will help growing efforts to overturn the ruling and allow active duty members to sue like everyone else.