Colorado State University student veterans with disabilities don’t need to face the challenges of getting a degree alone. The New Start for Student Veterans program in the Department of Occupational Therapy at CSU can help.
Cathy Schelly, an assistant professor in Occupational Therapy and director of the Center for Community Partnerships, established the New Start program at CSU following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. She knew returning veterans would be seeking college degrees after suffering brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and various physical injuries.
“In honor of Veterans Day, we want to alert post-9/11 student veterans who have sustained injuries while serving our country that there are individualized academic, study, learning and recreational supports available to them through the New Start for Student Veterans program,” Schelly said.
New Start is one reason CSU was ranked 13th nationally among four-year universities on the Military Times’ “Best for Vets” list, which ranks the top 125 schools for overall services provided to veterans.
“We’ve always tried to keep a pulse on what’s going on in the world. When I knew we were going to war after 9/11, I also knew that many young men and women were going to get hurt,” Schelly said. “We wanted to prepare CSU to work with these soldiers and help them be successful, in spite of serious injury.”
The program entered a new era in 2012 when alumnus Dennis Repp donated $1.55 million to create the New Start for Repp Distinguished Veterans Fund. Repp, a veteran himself, has since donated an additional $1 million to help the program better track the progress of program participants, from college entry to graduation and beyond.
Schelly said the program was helping a handful of veterans when New Start began, but now is working with more than 135 student veterans. The program assists veterans who have disabilities resulting from their injuries. Disabilities include traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other physical and emotional injuries.
One beneficiary’s story
Social work student and U.S. Marine veteran Joel Peters has been helped by New Start. When his vehicle wrecked in East Africa on May 25, 2009, Peters was on his way to administer first aid to fellow Marines injured by an accidental mortar explosion.
He wasn’t wearing the dated Humvee’s seat belt because it wouldn’t fit around his gear. He was thrown from the truck, hitting his head and injuring his rotator cuff, ribs and back. Peters suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and spent two weeks in a coma. Peters has had a long road, but has made a remarkable recovery from his brain injury.
Peters came to Colorado to get a fresh start and began taking classes at Front Range Community College, where he was referred to the New Start program.
“Through New Start you realize that just because you got hurt doesn’t mean you can’t ever do anything again,” Peters said. “You got hurt, but that’s irrelevant at this point. At New Start, there’s a genuine desire to help. They are a welcoming place.”