Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
VITAL program connects college Veterans with VA
Veterans often face a unique set of challenges when transitioning from military service to life as a college student. Fortunately, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center recently hired a full-time Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program coordinator to assist student Veterans in accessing available VA resources designed to help them succeed in the collegiate setting.
Charles West, LISW-CP, is a mental health social worker and serves as the coordinator and clinical provider for the VITAL program. He brings care directly to Veteran students by meeting with them and providing certain clinical services and care coordination onsite at local college campuses.
“Having a VA representative on campus can give that center point for access to VA health care and services,” West said. “We primarily offer mental health care, counseling and medication management through psychiatry, but we can also write referrals for other needed services.”
“Everything about the process is convenient. It was easy to schedule a session and I was able to go in between classes.” Cynthia Henderson, U.S. Navy Veteran
West currently has a dedicated space and holds office hours at Charleston Southern University (CSU) in North Charleston. He is building affiliations with Trident Technical College, The Citadel and College of Charleston.
Navy Veteran Cynthia Henderson is a junior at CSU, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She was referred to West by CSU’s student counseling center.
“Everything about the process is convenient,” Henderson said. “It was easy to schedule a session and I was able to go in between classes, which is a whole lot better than trying to find time to get to the hospital for an appointment. And now I feel like I’ve been given some tools to manage stressful situations when they happen.”
In addition to counseling students, West also educates college leadership and instructors about VITAL program offerings and the transitional difficulties Veterans may face when returning to school. VITAL’s goal is to enhance academic retention and help student Veterans reach their educational goals.
“It’s nice to know that, as a Veteran, I have help,” said Henderson. “There’s someone in my corner. I don’t have to do this alone or suffer alone.”
“I want to help people,” West said. “This program helps improve Veterans’ chances for success and overall quality of life.”