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University to Launch Innovative Mental Health Program for Student Veterans

In recognition of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, the University’s Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA) is pleased to announce the launch of the OVMA Resiliency Program (ORP) in partnership with Falk College and Hendricks Chapel. The ORP is an innovative wellness program tailored to meet the unique needs of veterans pursuing higher education and aims to enhance the overall well-being of veteran and military-connected students throughout their academic journey.

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report earlier this year, almost 70% of student veterans who are patients in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals received services for mental health care, compared to just 40% of all other veterans who received mental health care from the VA. Aside from seeking services to address concerns regarding post-traumatic stress disorder, the report shows a rising trend over a six-year period of student veterans seeking out care for depression and anxiety-related disorders more than their non-student veteran peers.

Ken James Marfilius Portrait
Ken Marfilius

“Aside from being non-traditional students, which brings additional stresses to their academic studies, student-veterans also have unique needs that most colleges and universities are not prepared to handle. There’s a clear need to provide military-connected students with assistance beyond just information on where they may find resources,” says Ken Marfilius ’11, assistant dean of online and distance education and associate teaching professor of social work in the Falk College. “This program will help assist student veterans in not only knowing what resources are available, but also how to navigate the process to receive those services and, sometimes, providing further support to ensure they get the care they need.”

Marfilius, a U.S. Air Force veteran, will become the associate director for the ORP where he will lead two Falk College graduate student interns, Brenic Nam G’25 and Natalie Hawes G’25, as well as leverage his extensive experience in providing mental health care services to the military-connected community to ensure the program’s effectiveness.

Both interns are military-connected students at Syracuse University who are pursuing master’s degrees in social work. Hawes is a veteran spouse as well as the granddaughter of two World War II veterans, and has more than five years of experience in supporting the military-connected community. For Nam, currently a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve after spending time on active duty, it’s an opportunity to build upon lessons learned while working at Clear Path for Veterans, a nonprofit veteran’s service organization located in Central New York.

Brenic Nam portrait
Brenic Nam G’25

“Veterans and military-connected students undergo significant transitions as they shift from military to civilian life. Through this phase of acculturation, they endure unique challenges that often result in immense stress. A dedicated program like ORP will provide imperative support, empowering these veterans and (military-connected) students to confidently navigate these challenges while pursuing their personal ambitions and reaching their fullest potential,” Nam says.

Hendricks Chapel, alongside the OVMA, will provide a stipend for both interns and support engagement with local community programs and services that are available in the area. The program will also seek to leverage support from the Syracuse VA Medical Center, which already provides medical services for many of Syracuse University’s student veterans.

“This initiative is a clear reflection of Syracuse University’s strategic vision to be recognized as the premier institution for veteran and military-connected students,” says U.S. Army Col. (Retired) Ron Novack, executive director of the OVMA. “By harnessing the strengths of its community and resources, the University is poised to not only meet but exceed the needs of this distinct student population. The ORP embodies the University’s commitment to fostering an environment of excellence and support for veterans and their families, further establishing Syracuse as the best place for veterans.”

The program will officially launch on Aug. 26, the first day of classes for the fall 2024 semester, with more details to come later this summer on how to access the program. Aside from standing as a beacon for the University’s resolve to create an inclusive and supportive environment for student veterans, the ORP will support military-connected students with concierge-style support to help them thrive academically during their transition to post-service life.

For more information on the programs and services available to veterans and military-connected students at Syracuse University, please visit the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs website.

An SU News story by Charlie Poag originally published on May 30, 2024.