UW–Madison hosts secretary of Veterans Affairs, highlights student veterans’ experience
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis R. McDonough’s visit to the University of Wisconsin–Madison began with a confession.
“Even though I have four brothers and sisters that went to college here, I’m from Minnesota. I’m a Vikings fan, a Gophers fan, but I still think that Camp Randall is the best place to watch a football game.”
The secretary’s June 6 visit, which included a morning meeting with Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and a roundtable discussion with students, centered on addressing critical issues affecting veterans.
UW–Madison was one of several stops during the secretary’s trip to Wisconsin. The visit offered an opportunity to discuss bolstering partnerships with the VA and how to best support student veterans. It also included a recognition of students’ service.
“I’d like to say thank you for all you’ve done and all you will do. When I think about the challenges and opportunities facing our country, I think we need more vets,” McDonough said.
The roundtable featured 11 student veterans and staff members, with a focus on how best to support UW–Madison’s more than 2,000 military-connected students. Joe Rasmussen, director of University Veteran Services, moderated the conversation.
Among the campus representatives were students and staff from Odyssey Beyond Wars, which offers a fully funded academic program for veterans; the Veteran Education to Workforce Affinity and Success Study (VETWAYS), a National Science Foundation-funded research project that explores the social support networks of military and veterans; and the UW Missing in Action Recovery Identification Project (UW MIA RIP), which recovers missing U.S. military personnel from past global conflicts.
Keegan Trevillian, president of UW–Madison’s Student Veterans of America chapter, asked about ways the VA and campus could work together to connect with veterans before they get to campus.
“Having the university reach out to veterans as they arrive could make a huge difference [in helping build community],” he said.
Jim Gingras, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and current PhD student in International Relations, mentioned the positive support he received from the VA, UW–Madison and the State of Wisconsin when he returned to higher education.
“The program funding my PhD has been phenomenal. The school has been great to help with funding, and I’d like to say thank you for that,” said Gingras.
Nursing student and Navy veteran Tyler DeVito addressed career preparation, internships and job opportunities during his conversation with the secretary.
“I came to college initially for business and switched to nursing. One thing that could be beneficial would be to have internships throughout the VA in various subjects — not just nursing but business and leadership — which a lot of veterans are studying.”
The discussion also focused on taking advantage of available benefits and services. UW–Madison’s Veteran Services office currently provides financial and GI Bill services to more than 850 eligible students each semester.
“All of the programs that are available are things that you have earned,” said McDonough. “They’re an investment in you.”
UW–Madison has made the support of veterans a key priority, implementing various initiatives and programming for students. This includes dedicated staff to help navigate benefits and maximize success, clubs and programs to build connections and community and resources to serve military-connected students. In addition to benefits support and programs like Odyssey Beyond Wars, VETWAYS and UW MIA RIP, the university launched the Badger Veteran Photo Project in November 2022. The project aims to showcase the dedication, service and personal lives of UW’s student veterans.
The secretary closed by reiterating that students take advantage of available benefits and explore job opportunities that exist in the VA.
“The VA is hiring, and we’d love to have you come work for us,” said McDonough. “We could use more level-headed Midwesterners working with us in DC.”
Learn more about UW–Madison’s services and support for veterans at veterans.wisc.edu.