Student veteran peer support gets boost

January 7, 2013

A novel program to help new student veterans successfully transition to life in college will receive nearly $1 million over three years from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.

The Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE) Program, designed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan Depression Center, will serve veterans attending one of 10 colleges throughout the Midwest by connecting them with trained peer advisors (who are themselves student veterans) on their campuses who can provide support and link them with resources to help achieve educational and personal goals. PAVE Peer Advisors are a credible source of support because they have “been there”. They can be particularly helpful because they are knowledgeable about resources on campus, at the VA, and in their local communities, and understand eligibility requirements for benefits and entitlements.

Veterans are enrolling at universities and community colleges in record numbers, many taking advantage of higher education benefits extended by the post-9/11 GI Bill. The college setting can, however, present special challenges for these veterans, and a large percentage drop out during their first year due to challenges during this transition, including academic issues, family stress, financial struggles, or emotional concerns. The earlier these concerns are addressed, the more likely that the veteran will have a successful academic career.

Among PAVE’s goals will be to identify mental health issues, create a sense of community and support among student veterans, increase student veteran retention rates, and improve academic performance. Marcia Valenstein, M.D., professor of psychiatry in the Medical School, will serve as the project’s principal investigator, and Daniel Eisenberg, Ph.D., associate professor of health management and policy in the School of Public Health, is the co-investigator.

The award to U-M was announced along with five other BMS Foundation grants intended to help address the mental health needs of returning veterans. The grant will help implement and evaluate the PAVE Program.

The PAVE Program is part of the M-SPAN network of programs providing services to service members, veterans, and military families. M-SPAN programs have been developed by faculty and staff from the U-M Depression Center and Department of Psychiatry in collaboration with the Michigan Army National Guard. Learn more at PAVEoncampus.org , or contact the PAVE Program at paveprogram@umich.edu or 1-855-822-PAVE (7283).