1,300 and growing. That is number of Veterans and their dependents attending The University of New Mexico. As this student population expands, so does the need to understand how to help these students succeed. Veterans typically don’t have much in common with traditional college students nor do they with each other. The dynamics of military service is impossible to encompass in a short brochure. The needs of these individuals are vast and that is why University leadership gathered everyone together. 

The University of New Mexico’s Veterans Resource Center, along with President Garnett S. Stokes and Provost Chaouki Abdallah, recently host two training workshops for those in the campus community who work with student Veterans in any capacity.

The workshops are part of President Stokes’ student veteran initiative and are designed to create a deeper awareness of the factors that impact UNM’s student veterans in their transition to civilian and student life.  

With over 150 participants in attendance, President Stokes opened the event reminding people why their participation is crucial. 

“I love the freedom of walking through our beautiful campus to my office each morning. I love seeing members of our community freely engaged in conversations, or listening to music as they walk, bicycle or skateboard to their destinations,” said Stokes. “These simple freedoms that define our daily lives are unfortunately, not enjoyed universally. What you are going to learn about today, are the people who protect the freedom we hold so dear—our Veterans.” 

Stokes clarified the purpose of the trainings was not simply to thank Veterans for their service, “But to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences.”

This deeper understanding includes acquiring the skills necessary to help these students navigate an educational system and a social climate where university faculty, staff and their classmates do not relate to their experiences in the military and the issues that may follow. 

“I want you to try to imagine a set of challenges that a disability or chronic pain may pose, or how a loud noise can immediately trigger a flashback of a traumatic event,” said Stokes. “This workshop is about saying ‘thank you’ by learning to serve the unique needs of our student Veterans.”  

Serving those who served 

Without hesitation or frivolity, Dr. James Goff — chief-of-staff, New Mexico Veterans Association Health Care System (NMVAHCS), professor in the UNM School of Medicine Department of Surgeryand a retired lieutenant colonel — went right into a training, with other subject matter experts, for staff and faculty that focused on a variety of topics such as military culture, recognizing PTSD, traumatic brain injury, potential implications for suicide prevention and community resources for veterans.

“At the start of the one-day training, Dr. Goff asked participants to stand if they knew or were related to a service member, and the entire room stood,” said participant Elisha Allen, director of UNM Core IT Services. “While most people have a casual understanding of the military and the issues that Veterans face when they return to civilian life, the one-day training provided great information on a variety of related topics that really helped to clarify unique aspects of the student Veteran experience.”

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Lead by Madeleine Goodkind — a clinical psychologist at the New Mexico VA Healthcare System and an adjunct assistant professor at the UNM School of Medicine in the departments of Psychaitry and Behavioral Sciences and Psychology — this two-day workshop offered in-depth, specialized training in Cognitive Processing Therapy or CPT, an evidence-based treatment for PTSD. 

CPT is a 12-session manualized therapy used by clinicians to help people recover from PTSD and related conditions. CPT is considered a best practice for the treatment of PTSD and is endorsed by the VA, DoD, and International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies.

​ “My hope is that participants left the training feeling excited about the treatment and confident in their abilities to implement the protocol,” said Goodkind. “This training provided a wonderful opportunity for increasing communication between the VA and community partners.”

The trainings from the workshop were recorded and will be made available online for reference or for first-time participants. 

For more information about the University’s efforts and support for student Veterans, visit the UNM Veterans Resource Center website.