The men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue to experience difficulty returning to civilian life and finding employment. George Washington University aims to make the transition to a civilian career easier with a new Veterans BSN program.
“GW has a long history of serving student veterans, and nursing wanted to be part of that,” said Billinda Tebbenhoff, DNP, RN, PMHCNS, assistant professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies at the GW School of Nursing in Washington, D.C., adding that some veterans consider nursing “an opportunity to serve people in other ways.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate for the approximately 3.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan era war veterans fell in 2014 to 7.2%. However, the unemployment rate for both male and female veterans of this era is still higher than that of nonveterans.
While veterans often expressed interest in the GW nursing program, many did not choose a nursing career because their military educational credits did not transfer. Determined to change that, Tebbenhoff and colleagues traveled to San Antonio to the Department of Defense’s Medical Education & Training Campus where service members receive medic and corpsmen training. They reviewed the curriculum, attended classes, met with faculty and developed a process for accepting portions of the military education at METC toward nursing school credit.
Student Kimberlee Ceballos served as a medic and eye technician while in the U.S. Army. She served in the Wounded Warriors program at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and was medically discharged after eight years in April 2014.
“I get fulfillment out of helping others,” Ceballos said. “When you help someone in serious need, it’s so rewarding.”
The GW School of Nursing received a three-year, $1-million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for its Veterans Educational Transition to Success Initiative. The grant does not include scholarships, but veterans’ benefits may cover 100% of the cost. Participants receive additional mentoring, tutoring and support services from GW SON. The advisers are veterans as is a counselor.
“There’s more than I thought would be provided to me,” Ceballos said. “They are helping me in the transition and going above and beyond.”
The 15-month, four-semester program is based at the GW Virginia Science & Technology Campus in Ashburn, Va. Students must complete 120 credits, including 60 prerequisites before starting the program.
The program is fast paced, which appeals to Ceballos, who said she is anxious to complete the program and return to her family. Her husband is stationed in Georgia and will deploy to Egypt this summer. “It was my turn to do what I needed to do for the family,” said Ceballos, who has set her sights on becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.
GW SON reviews each student’s prior studies and tailors a roadmap to complete studies specific to the applicant’s military training, experience and prior college-level work. Some veterans come to the program with as many as 200 credit hours never applied to a degree, often due to moving around, according to Tebbenhoff.
The program is open to active duty and reservists with an honorable or general discharge who have not earned a bachelor’s degree. The target population for the grant is veterans living in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, but some veterans found the program so appealing they relocated.
Ceballos, who was born in New York and lived in Texas, talked to coordinators at many programs before settling on GW. She is part of the first cohort of seven who began the program in January and are slated to graduate in March 2016. The grant projects the program will graduate 45 students by 2017.
The veteran-program students go through the accelerated program with other students in the classroom and for clinicals.
“For me, this is great,” Ceballos said. “I didn’t have time to sit around. This program is perfect for transitioning veterans. It truly is a blessing for veterans.”