Student veterans use Wellness Center for free sessions, resources available for students

March 14, 2017

Audrey Jensen

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     Whether it’s from a car accident, domestic violence or military combat, for students struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress or any other mental health issue, the Wellness Center offers counseling services to students who need assistance in their lives or in the classroom.

     In September, the Wellness Center partnered with the Office of Military and Veteran Student Affairs (OMVSA) to offer student veterans one free screening and six free sessions for anything they are dealing with in their personal lives or in the classroom.

     According to Benek Altayli, director of Mental Health Services, an average of 10 students per month take advantage of the six free sessions offered to student veterans for different reasons. This number does not include students who continue their sessions for the $15 rate.

     She added that 50-60 percent of these students stay on for additional sessions. Sometimes student veterans will stay for a total of 16-20 sessions.

     Each student veteran is a case-by-case situation, and not every student who uses the free session is seeking counseling for PTS or PTSD, said Altayli.

     If these students need additional or longer treatment, they will be referred to longterm resources, such as the Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic located in the Lane Center on Nevada Avenue.

     Valerie Anderson, director of the VHTC, said that out of all of their clients that the clinic serves that some are referred students, although she did not have a specific number of how many.

     Right now, the VHTC has 260 active clients. Since the clinic opened three years ago, they have served 640 clients and had over 10,200 client contacts.

     Anderson said that most military or veterans seen at the VHTC with trauma is related to military combat, military sexual trauma or childhood sexual or physical abuse.

     For a student who has symptoms of PTS or is struggling with a traumatic brain injury, certain classroom environments are hard to be in, according to Anderson.

     “If they get in a classroom situation and they start feeling unsafe, they’re really going to get amped up, those students need to take a timeout,” Anderson said. “They can be triggered by classroom discussion.”

     This can occur when discussions about sensitive topics in political or women studies classes take place.

     “They can start having intrusive thoughts about what they might have experienced themselves…when they get triggered, they can get really emotionally aroused,” said Anderson.

     “Some of those behaviors that might be seen in the classroom, if you don’t understand where it’s coming from, you might respond to it differently than if you have an understanding that that’s just a bad environment.”

     Altayli said that everyday she receives a call from faculty and staff at UCCS asking how to handle a situation with a student.

     “We have informal mediation, informal coaching, informal education almost on a daily basis. 99 percent of everyone really are working hard to be helpful,” said Altayli.

     Students who need their professors or instructors to accommodate their needs should contact the disability office on campus.

     Altayli said that students should take their paperwork from their clinician with their diagnosis to Disability Services so they are able to contact the student’s professor to work out the best accommodation.

     According to Anderson and Phillip Morris, director of the OMVSA, it is important to distinguish the difference between PTS and PTSD.

     “People can have posttraumatic stress symptoms, but not have the full criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD,” Anderson said. “PTSD requires that there’s significant impairment in occupational and educational realms.”

     Anderson added that anyone who is struggling with symptoms of PTS have developed resilience or ways to cope.

     “You can have someone who’s had to develop coping for things like that, for getting emotionally amped up, for the hyper-vigilance…but might be holding a job and going to school just fine. That doesn’t mean they’re not suffering; it means that they have developed ways of coping.”

     It is also important not to assume that you know what triggers another student who is struggling with PTS or PTSD, and that you don’t assume you know who is dealing with it, said Morris.

     “Don’t make the assumption that because someone’s angry or upset that they have PTSD, don’t assume all veterans have PTSD. There is no evidence that PTS is linked to violence. There will be some real misconceptions about that,” Morris said.

     People who go through trauma all respond differently, so people should be accepting and accommodating of people’s experiences, according to Morris.

     “I think there might be a misconception that veterans have PTSD. We’re such a military heavy community, everyone knows someone that served, or interacted with someone that served. Through interaction (they) understand that they’re a completely normal person.”

     Anderson said that anyone who thinks they may be struggling with any signs of PTS should seek professional assessment.

     “People talk about PTSD as if it’s something they have in their pocket,” Anderson said. “PTSD is not an excuse for bad behavior; it might be a reason, but it’s not an excuse.”

     Morris and Altayli said that any student, veteran or not, should go to the Wellness Center to seek help.

     Morris added that the Wellness Center is the best place to go for students struggling with PTS or PTSD, and that the veterans center is mainly focused on helping student veterans with their benefits and to provide resources.

     “If you need something, say something and we’re here. I think that’s the most important bottom line. If I can’t do something about it, I will find someone, dammit, that you get what you need. It’s not just for veterans, we care a whole lot about our students in general,” said Altayli.

     “It’s not medically tracked, it’s not going to go on any permanent medical record, it will not affect security clearance or future employment, it’s considered medical treatment…there shouldn’t be any stigma around it,” said Morris.