From “New MATC program could help war veterans balance school and health” — All told, Savage Margraf spent about five-and-a-half hours Wednesday afternoon going to a series of appointments at the Veterans Hospital.

That meant the 25-year-old Iraq War veteran missed two classes at Madison Area Technical College in order to get treatment for her traumatic brain injury and other health issues.

But a new program at MATC may make it easier for student veterans to balance school and their health. The Madison Veterans Hospital won a grant to create a mini-V.A. at the college.

The new program, set to start in May, will embed a full-time social worker at the college. Specialists, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, addiction specialist, and a benefits expert, will drop in once a week. Wellness programs, such as yoga and tai chi, will be offered.

“It’s stressful to try to cram doctors appointments in between classes, where you have to leave the school, go all the way to the V.A., and come back,” said Margraf, who served in the Marine Corps for four years. “It makes it a lot more stressful to try to do that than it would be to just walk downstairs.”

The number of student veterans at MATC — also known as Madison College — is the highest in the state among the Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges, according to data from the Wisconsin Technical College System. There were 588 students receiving a tuition waiver under the state and federal G.I. Bills at MATC in the 2010-11 academic year, the most recent year for which state data is available. Milwaukee Area Technical College had 504 student veterans, according to the data.

MATC officials say that number doesn’t reflect the full number of veterans because there are some who don’t qualify for tuition benefits. They say there are 786 full-and-part-time students in 2011-12.

“I think it’s important to realize the reintegration process, coming back especially if they were deployed to a war zone, is a monumental task,” said Heidi Sigmund, a psychologist at the Veterans Hospital and director of a program on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Many veterans say the journey of going from civilian or soldier or Marine is easy when you compare it to trying to come back from Marine or soldier to civilian.”

She said some veterans feel like they don’t fit in with other students. Others with PTSD may have anxiety disorders that get triggered by crowded classrooms. Many veterans are trying to juggle going to school with a family, work, and therapy, Sigmund said.

“One of the goals is to kind of just relocate a clinic [at MATC] a couple days a week where they can really get everything they would receive here, there,” Sigmund said. “Our effort is to decrease any barriers to care. To just make us as accessible as possible.”

Officials say they hope the close proximity will draw in new patients. In a survey that the hospital conducted, students said the hospital’s location is inconvenient, they don’t know what services are offered, and it’s too complicated to access benefits.

Margraf openly talks about her health issues in the hopes of helping other veterans. She said there’s still a negative stigma toward mental health treatment in the military.

The Lodi resident suffers from PTSD, a back injury, and a traumatic brain injury from her time as a turret gunner in Iraq. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last March.

Margraf — who said her father named her after the Savage Arms rifle company — is in the liberal arts transfer program and hopes to transfer to UW-Madison in the fall.

She won’t be able to get treatment for all her ailments at MATC, but she may be able to schedule appointments to treat some things, such as PTSD.

“I’m supposed to be doing a newer PTSD treatment therapy,” she said. “But I haven’t been able to schedule it because of school.”



From the “New careers possible with GI Bill benefits” — MANITOWOC — Aimee Augustine is excited about telling military veterans about the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

“It is the best benefit our veterans have ever had,” said Augustine, a U.S. Army veteran herself, who serves as deputy in the Manitowoc County Veterans Service Office.

Depending on each individual veteran’s situation, benefits may include payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, a stipend for books and supplies, college fund payments and a Yellow Ribbon benefit that funds tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate.

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