DU Enhancing Opportunities for Veterans
Hundreds of veterans are finding more than just a world-class education
After Joshua Oakley finished his service as a captain in the U.S. Army in 2015, he headed straight for the University of Denver.
“I grew up in the area and always knew DU was a premier school,” says Oakley, who served three tours of duty in Iraq and is now an MBA candidate at the University’s Daniels College of Business. “A natural transition for a lot of military officers is to get an MBA, so Daniels was a great option. When I was transitioning out of the military and was looking at programs, the DU MBA seemed like a perfect fit — a growing city, new opportunities and a world-class education.”
Veterans coming to DU these days are attracted by more than just that world-class education. The University continues to enhance its welcome mat for veterans by expanding and strengthening its offerings. Oakley is taking advantage of Right Foot Forward, a new program offered through Veterans Services at DU. It pairs student veterans with businesspeople in industries in which they’re interested. Students and mentors meet regularly to discuss career options and network with other professionals. After the program, each veteran — male or female — gets a free suit from Brooks Brothers.
“My mentor is also a veteran and has given me his insider perspective on transition from the military, as well as numerous contacts,” Oakley says. “He’s both a mentor and facilitator.”
Oakley is one of about 300 veterans currently enrolled at DU, says Damon Vine, who coordinates Veterans Services at DU. “We’re definitely seeing a resurgence in support for our veterans here,” Vine says. “It starts with my office, but it’s really all across the campus. They come to my office looking for community and to be a part of higher education.”
Vine says he’s working to revitalize a student veterans association that should begin meeting this year. “We have seven students now, and it will include all students who are veterans — undergrad and graduate students,” Vine says. “We want to create stronger peer-to-peer groups. Support for veterans is really taking off. DU can be proud of fostering that.”
“We don’t want to be pitied; we just don’t want to be forgotten. As the wars end, and God willing, the world becomes more peaceful, the struggles of some veterans are still real and ongoing.”
DU added two more veteran-related programs last year, thanks to donations from the Sturm Family Foundation. At DU’s Sturm College of Law, the Veterans Advocacy Project provides legal advice and services to assist with the myriad legal issues many veterans face. And the University’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) has launched a new mental health clinic for current military members, veterans and their families, as well as the Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology, an education track that will help create more knowledgeable and skilled mental health care providers for veterans.
Donald Sturm, founder of the Sturm Family Foundation, says there are countless stories of traditional service providers who aren’t meeting the needs of military veterans and active members with serious physical, mental and legal needs. “Our family was interested in helping these individuals, their families and the University of Denver’s faculty and students by providing necessary and beneficial services to veterans,” Sturm says.
The law school’s Veterans Advocacy Project, which also received funding from the Colorado Bar Foundation, allows DU law students to work with attorneys to help veterans with their legal needs, including disability compensation claims and discharge upgrades, at no charge (23 percent of veterans receive an “other than honorable discharge” that can limit health, pension and education benefits).
Director Ann Vessels says the program has 41 active cases (two cases have been resolved, netting clients nearly $675,000) and is giving students invaluable experience in a growing legal niche.
“We’re enormously proud of the work we have been able to do to date and look forward to helping many more veterans,” Vessels says.
At GSPP, the Sturm Center tailors mental health services specifically to military needs, at the same time giving students hands-on experience working with a military population. The Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology education track — which starts in September — will train students to assist veterans with their mental health care. Katy Barrs, director of the Sturm Center, says the curriculum will include courses on military culture and families, readjustment, treatment, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, reintegration into the community and community resources.
“I look forward to contributing to future generations of psychologists who will be better prepared and trained to assist the men and women who have served our country,” Barrs says.
As for Oakley’s future, he plans to get his real estate license and build a residential real estate business.
“We don’t want to be pitied; we just don’t want to be forgotten,” Oakley says of himself and his fellow vets. “As the wars end, and God willing, the world becomes more peaceful, the struggles of some veterans are still real and ongoing.”