UA Staff Provide Resources for Student Veterans

By Chase Reavis

The Razorback Reporter

UA student veterans receive benefits and accommodations including financial aid and prolonged time on tests from on-campus facilities.

The Veterans Resource and Information Center, VRIC, staff work with students and their dependents on a variety of college success factors, director Erika Gamboa said. Among these factors are college preparedness, financial aid, scholarships, registration and admission.

VRIC provides information for student veterans and sometimes refers students elsewhere on campus for further assistance, Gamboa said.

“We work with different departments across campus,” she said. “We have partnerships to make sure that the students have everything they need in order to be admitted, be enrolled and graduate.”

VRIC also informs students of career opportunities, because the goal is not for students to “just graduate, but also have a plan afterwards, like a career,” Gamboa said.

One avenue for opportunity is the Sam M. Walton College of Business, specifically Meredith Adkins, director for corporate relations and outreach.

Adkins receives releases from corporations – including Amazon – that are seeking veterans for employment and forwards them onto Gamboa to give student veterans the opportunities, Adkins said.

Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services are listed on VRIC’s page on the UA website as veteran-seeking employers, in addition to organizations such as Hire Heroes USA, Show Your Stripes and Goodwill Industries. Hire Heroes USA provides employment workshops, career coaching and job sourcing for veterans, and their work has resulted in the employment of over 18,000 veterans, according to their website.

Adkins works closely with Gamboa to be sure that student veterans get the opportunities meant for them, Adkins said.

From Oct. 23 to Oct. 27, the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity will work with Walton College to present diversity week, Adkins said. The event is “to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the workplace” and veterans are “specifically reached out to as part of that event.”

Beyond campus support for student veterans, staff members also refer student veterans to the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, especially for mental health concerns, Gamboa said.

Student veterans can request accommodations during tests and classes, such as extended time, transcribers and note-takers, but those accommodations must be approved by the UA Center for Educational Access after a meeting and documentation, said Laura James, Associate Director of Student Access for the Center for Educational Access.

“Circumstances and disability-related barriers vary based upon the individual, (so) there are not specific accommodations that students who are currently serving in the military or are veterans typically request,” James said.

The case-by-case nature of CEA’s offered accommodations means that not all student veterans can be assumed to be afforded the same accommodations.

In addition to helping student veterans with general college success, VRIC also works to make sure student veterans who need accommodation receive that accommodation.

“Our purpose is to help these students graduate – all the ones who come through our door,” Gamboa said.

UA Nursing Department Prepares Students to Enter VA

By Katie Serrano

The Razorback Reporter

The University of Arkansas School of Nursing is preparing their graduate students to find the right hospital to work at after a strike at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Little Rock raised concerns about working conditions in June.

Susan Patton, interim director of the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing, said she had “mixed feelings” about the strike that lasted a week in Little Rock.

“Nurses’ primary job is to take care of their patients,” Patton said. “But if they feel that their working conditions are affecting the way that they care for those patients, they also have an ethical responsibility to speak up about it.”

There were approximately 50,000 job vacancies throughout the VA in April 2017, according to data released by the VA.

After the strike, the hospital responded by implementing a plan to recruit more nurses, start a bonus program for experienced medical and surgical Registered Nurses, and lowering the bed capacity in order to protect and enhance patient care, according to the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

“Here in Fayetteville the nurse-to-patient ratios are well balanced at the VA hospital,” Patton said. “I notice significant differences between the environment at VA hospitals compared to other local hospitals. When our students go through their clinical rotations, I like to visit the VA last because the nurses are typically in a good mood. They are taking care of veterans, who are very service oriented people, and some of the most appreciative patients you can work with.”

One incentive for Arkansas nurses is the VALOR program, which stands for VA Learning Opportunities Residency.

“The VA hires students while they are in school and gives them special training, as well as pay,” Patton said.

Pay also has been an increasing issue for Arkansas Registered Nurses. The annual mean wage of registered nurses in 2016 in Arkansas was $57,630 compared to the national mean annual wage of $72,180, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, “pay isn’t always the most important thing,” Patton said.

“We tell our students to pick hospitals based on the support system they will be offered,” Patton said. “Although the pay at VA Hospitals may not be the highest, I have seen that taking care of veterans results in the happiest nurses.

Arkansas nursing students also are required to research and apply for jobs themselves while they are students. They must take into account several factors that make it a desirable place to work, such as turnover rates and cost of living.

Arkansas is in the top regional percentile of states with the highest turnover rate, which is the percentage of employees in a workforce that leave during a certain period of time, for Registered Nurses, according to Nursing Solutions Inc.

Although Little Rock nurses went on strike, their pay is approximately 10 percent higher than nurses in Northwest Arkansas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I think this helps prove that the environment is ultimately the most important factor for a nurse,” Patton said.

Patton encourages students, nursing or not, to talk to military recruiters even if it’s something they’ve never considered.

“VA hospitals give special preference to veteran nurses,” Patton said. “Not only do they offer incredible financial support, but from my personal experience, veterans make the best nurses because they are working with the newest technology, and can relate the best to the people they are helping.”