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Counselors VITAL to college transition for Veteran

Staff cut the ribbon for VITAL's office at Kaplan University in Lincoln, NE.

From left: Kate Packard, Kaplan University, Omaha and Lincoln Campus president; Jennifer Heritage, Kaplan admissions advisor; Lori Wardlow, NWIHCS transition care management Administrative Officer and Program Manager; Barb Shupe, NWIHCS VITAL counselor; Dr. Ahsan Naseem, NWIHCS associate chief of staff for Telehealth Services; and Michael Klacik, Kaplan director of Admissions, cut the ribbon for the opening of the VITAL office November 2015 at the Kaplan University campus in Lincoln.

By Anna Morelock
Friday, January 29, 2016

While many college students are away from home for the first time, 18 and fresh out of high school, Veteran students bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom. Sometimes, however, their knowledge and experiences create challenges of their own. That’s when college outreach social workers Barb Shupe and David Rutherford step in as a part of the VITAL program – Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership.

Besides schoolwork, many Veterans have jobs and families. Some may have health issues such as hearing problems, sleep troubles and learning disabilities that make college a challenge. After returning from combat, some issues faced by other students may seem trivial. These are all situations where VITAL counselors can help.

Justin Otoski, a U.S. Army Veteran and president of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln Student Veterans Organization, said Shupe has been a great resource for him since he started back to school. UNL counselors are great about advising on education stressors, Otoski said, and VA is great when transitioning from the service. Shupe, however, has been able to help him bridge challenges in all areas to succeed.

Last semester, Otoski said he was overwhelmed with school and wasn’t sure where to turn. Shupe, he said, helped him come up with a plan to help balance his school, work and family life.

“Having her on campus makes it so much easier,” Otoski said. “She’s a great person that really helps out the Vets in a unique way.”
The VITAL program has four goals – to ensure Veterans are enrolled for health care; to educate faculty and staff on Veterans’ issues; to help Veterans troubleshoot any issues they have with school; and to provide outreach to Veterans who may not know what services are available to them.

“These folks have had life experience like nothing else,” Shupe said. “There’s just a lot of challenges and stresses they see on a daily basis.”

Shupe and Rutherford have a presence at six colleges and universities in Nebraska:  the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and at Kearney, Doane College, Kaplan University, Southeast Community College and Central Community College.

Shupe said some Veterans just stop by once to get information; others visit regularly for help. For more information about VITAL, visit the A to Z services page at or call Shupe at 402-676-4261.



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