Military veterans attending UNM have distinctive experiences, both enriching and challenging. The transition from military to campus life can be difficult. In an effort to ease the transition, connect vets with other vets, and facilitate school success, UNM Student Health & Counseling (SHAC), in collaboration with Vallecitos Mountain Ranch, sponsors the second annual “Retreat for Student Veterans,” September 11–14.

Vallecitos Mountain Ranch is a beautiful and remote retreat facility located in northern New Mexico. Off the cell phone and Internet grid, the ranch offers individual housing in casitas, nutritious meals and scenic vistas.

“Students who attended the first retreat were unanimously positive in their feedback, using words like ‘life changing’ and ‘amazing,’” said Peggy Spencer, M.D. at SHAC. “The retreat helped them forge connections with other veteran students, taught them mindfulness skills for stress management and provided support in the form of professionally facilitated group meetings.”

“I’ve been to the woods before, but it’s never been anything as amazing as what I experienced on this retreat, said Angelina, one of the participants, who preferred not to give her full name. “I learned that taking time to be quiet and present is NOT a waste of time, and that I can’t work with complete focus unless I take the time to refresh my mind through being quiet and present.” 

Spencer added that the students clearly enjoyed sharing the experience together. “They engaged fully with the mindfulness training, which gave them new skills that I'm confident they will carry forward. In group discussions, they were honest and courageous. It was a joy to witness them support each other as only fellow veterans can,” she said. “We are very excited to be able to offer this opportunity again to another group of veterans."

Twenty-five students are signed up for this year’s retreat, the maximum number the ranch can accommodate. The retreat is free to the students but there is a fee for use of the ranch facility. With a $3,000 shortage needed to fund all the students, SHAC has set up a Veterans Fund through the UNM Foundation. Anyone wishing to contribute can visit Student Veteran’s Retreat Fund. The donation is 100 percent tax deductible.

In addition, the Stone Age Climbing Gym is holding a "Climb for Veterans" benefit fundraiser Friday, Sept. 5 from 5-10 p.m., at 4130 Cutler Ave NE, Albuquerque. All day passes are discounted to $10, with all proceeds going to the SHAC Veterans Fund to support the annual Student Veterans Retreat.

“While the purpose of the retreat is primarily one of service, we recognize the value of quantifying the benefits gained,” Spencer said. “To formally assess the impact of this retreat on the students who attend, we will administer symptom surveys immediately before and after the retreat and on a regular basis until graduation, along with collecting retention data and grade point averages. Our expectation is that the students who attend the retreat will function better overall in college than military veteran students who do not attend the retreat.”

Visit Facebook for more information about the retreat and photos from last year.