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The University of Alabama

UA to Host Summits to Aid Transitions of Military Veterans

By David Miller

The University of Alabama recently received a $25,000 grant from the National Institute of Child and Human Development to coordinate national summit meetings during “Service Member to Civilian: A National Summit on Improving Transitions,” a UA-hosted event to be held Dec. 1-3 in Tuscaloosa, and again in December 2015.

The summits will focus on defining the critical next steps in understanding and addressing the reintegration needs of members of the total military force, veterans and their families. Drs. Jo Pryce, Karl Hamner and Lori Davis (Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center) are co-principal investigators on the grant.

“This will attract the top researchers, in partnership with the VA, to look at critical issues in active duty to civilian life,” said Hamner, assistant dean of scholarly affairs in UA’s Capstone College of Nursing and School of Social Work. “What are the issues that facilitate or hinder that transition? How do issues like PTSD or traumatic brain injury impact employment? How do we support people who are having these problems? And, perhaps more importantly, what are the things that characterize the veterans who make successful transitions?”

The NICHD grant will help UA organizers disseminate more information, attract nationally known speakers, and allow them to collaborate with the Tuscaloosa VA, particularly Davis, a national expert on PTSD, Hamner said.

“Her reputation and knowledge are invaluable,” Hamner said.

Keynote speakers include Navy SEAL, nonprofit leader, author and speaker Eric Greitens, CEO of “The Mission Continues,” a non-profit organization that encourages civilians and veterans to work together through community service. Greitens is also a New York Times best-selling author.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran and military sexual assault survivor and motivational speaker, Sarah Plummer, also will serve as a keynote speaker.

The summit is unique in that multiple issues will be discussed, Hamner said. Typically, conferences or summits for support of military veterans tend to focus on a single issue, like PTSD, workforce integration or drug addiction. The UA summit will include expert panels, collaborative sessions with veterans and their families, and a veteran’s job event that will bring in employers to provide sessions for veterans and their spouses.

“There have been a number of conferences on the role higher education can play,” Hamner said, “but there’s never really been one that’s had this blended approach and a translational agenda, where we’re looking to say ‘how can we turn science into action, not just for publications?’ As academics, we get paid to publish. But, publishing a paper doesn’t mean it’s going into action.

“We want to attract the top researchers who can tell us what issues the research says are most critical, and pair them with vets and their spouses, policy makers and educators. We need all four groups to be together to create solutions.”

While PTSD is the most publicized issue veterans are facing, one of the greater issues is substance abuse, which can lead to legal problems and impact personal relationships, Hamner said.

“PTSD gets a lot of the press, and we have to address that,” he said, “but more prevalent problems, like anger issues, domestic violence and drug abuse need attention. Those can get you into legal problems and have real impacts on personal relationships. And, it plays out in areas we don’t think. St. Clair County Alabama did a jail census, and found 10 percent were vets, mostly in there for domestic violence and substance abuse. We could provide services to help prevent that.”

The conference will have a discounted rate for veterans and family members, which will be announced later this year. The job fair, which will take place Dec. 1, is free for military members and their dependents.