CSU Program Helps Returning Military Vets Overcome Injuries, Reenter Community

A Colorado State University program is helping military veterans returning from the Middle East re-enter the community – a challenge that may be characterized by brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and a significant cultural shift from being at war to working along the Front Range.

Colorado State’s New Start Program is being implemented by the Center for Community Partnerships, a service and outreach arm of the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Applied Human Sciences. New Start tailors a re-entry system for veterans to help them begin local career and educational pursuits. The program has served 25 military veterans, including many CSU students.

“This service is unique to each person. It’s about the individual – what he or she believes their skills are. The service provides them with a path to their goals, be it job training, assistance in finding direction for a degree, or accommodations they need due to an injury,” said Catherine Schelly, director of the Center for Community Partnerships. Schelly said the number of program participants is expected to climb rapidly as injured service members return from Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict. “For example, a veteran might identify a job that is a good match for her skills, and then learn through the program how to compensate for her injury, such as learning to do the job in a different way or identifying specific support in the work environment that allows her to be successful.”

The program also benefits CSU’s occupational therapy fieldwork students who have opportunities to work with the veterans while learning about the challenges of specific disabilities and strategies for overcoming them. The students and faculty involved in the program help the veteran establish an approach to gaining the skills and accommodations they need based on the veteran’s current knowledge and skills, stamina and learning style. Schelly said that many local businesses have supported the program and have wanted to be a part of helping veterans re-enter school and employment in the Front Range area.

A veteran with post traumatic stress disorder who is going to college may, for example, work on the buddy system to help him readjust to daily activities such as walking across campus and learning in a crowded classroom if he is seeking a degree.

The program coordinates with professors for accommodations, such as sharing materials before a lecture, mapping out time to prepare assignments and preparing for tests well in advance to help veterans with short-term memory loss as a result of a brain injury.

“The program focuses on helping veterans learn how they learn, learn what they need and then learn how to advocate for themselves,” Schelly said. “The New Start program goes above and beyond the typical reasonable accommodations that people may expect in order to help veterans find success after serving their country.”

Veterans in the program who are pursuing careers are currently working in communities across the Front Range. Veterans who are pursuing college degrees are attending institutions in northern Colorado, including Colorado State, Front Range Community College and University of Northern Colorado.