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'A lifesaver': Carolina Veterans Resource Center builds military community

The Carolina Veterans Resource Center sits on Branson Street.

The Carolina Veterans Resource Center sits on Branson Street.

The first time Melissa Holloway walked into the Carolina Veterans Resource Center, she said she was greeted by the dog of a fellow veteran. 

“It’s a favorite memory that keeps on happening over and over and over again,” Holloway, a 12-year active duty veteran and nursing major, said. The center is a place to find camaraderie for Holloway. 

Since 2017, the CVRC has worked with campus partners to provide academic assistance, mental health resources and a community to students who are active duty, veteran, reservist, or in the National Guard.

The University was recognized this August by Viqtory’s annual Military Friendly Schools list for being a leader in the practices, outcomes and programs of military-affiliated student support. UNC received a gold ranking, placing the University in the top 14 percent of the 1,800 schools that participated in the survey.

But Rob Palermo, program director of the CVRC, said there is still work to be done . 

"I would kind of view those rankings as a series of benchmarks you can try to hit, more than a competition,"  Palermo said.

The center offers Green Zone training, which aims to educate faculty on the “military connected student experience,” in addition to Boot Print to Heel Print, a separate orientation program for military-affiliated students.

Palermo said the Green Zone program has trained approximately 480 people in the past two years at the University, including both faculty and hospital employees.  He said he wants the program to continue to be able to better serve the veteran population. 

Before studying at the University, six-year Air Force veteran and advertising and public relations major Caitlin Russell said she reached out to Palermo and began working at the center to help her fellow veterans. 

“The big thing for me was, I wanted to make sure I had a place to have a sense of community with people that understood where I was coming from,” Russell said.

Through events like Taco Tuesdays, the center works to bring veterans and other military-affiliated students together. Twenty-year-Marine veteran and psychology major Roberto Escobar said the resources and events provided by the CVRC have been a huge help. 

“It legitimately is a family here,” Escobar said

For veterans who have chosen to attend UNC and pursue an education, Holloway said community events are a great way for them to interact with people who share their military background. 

North Carolina has the eighth highest veteran population in the country, which is one reason why Palermo said he believes the work of the center is so important.

"Our student veterans, at the very youngest, are going to be the same age as your traditional student is when they graduate," Palermo said. "Most of the programming and support at UNC is really designed for more traditional students, especially at the undergraduate level." 

Although the University offers mental health resources, the type of support required for a military veteran is often vastly different than what a traditional student might need, Palermo said. He added that many veterans at the school are facing service related injuries such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

There’s a culture of self-reliance in the military, Palermo said, which makes it difficult for veterans to ask for help regarding mental health issues. 

“So that’s something we tried to normalize doing here and [we] provide resources for people to be able to do,” he saidFor example, the center hosted a panel on suicide prevention in the student veteran community in collaboration with the UNC THRIVE program, the School of Medicine and other campus entities.

As a non-traditional student, Russell said the CVRC has been a “lifesaver” for helping her feel included within the UNC community.

“Having a place where you can go and connect with other people who understand where you’re coming from is a really big deal,” Russell said.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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