The University of Montana launched its new Military and Veteran Services office in Nov. 2021 with the goal of recruiting and better serving veterans and the military community.

Now, a year in, leaders at the university, located in the state’s western city of Missoula, are continuing to find ways to value, engage and mentor veterans as they transition out of the service and into their next mission.

“By design, we’re trying to be more intentional with that office to grow it to serve all our military affiliated students on campus in a greater capacity,” Pat Beckwith, the director of the new office, told Military Times.

In total, over 1,000 students at the school have an affiliation with the military — including 400 student veterans — a population comprising roughly 10% of the total campus population, according to Beckwith, who served for a decade as an active-duty Army officer and is currently in the Montana Army National Guard.

“One in 10 Montanans are veterans,” Judy Hayman, the Montana Veterans Affairs health care executive director, said in a statement. “Across Montana, we have seen the power of partnerships to help connect veterans to the services they have earned.”

Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs opened a new video telehealth site at the university, offering private spaces equipped with high-speed internet access to provide veteran students and faculty members better access to VA care.

From small steps, like waiving application fees for veteran students and helping them navigate the benefits process, to larger initiatives, including a student-veterans ambassador program and a more robust online course catalog, the school is putting in the work to expand how it reaches and empowers current and prospective veteran students.

Seth Bodnar, the university’s president — and a former Green Beret — emphasized in an interview with Military Times that veterans “have a tremendous amount still to offer,” and that higher education can be the very catalyst to help get veterans on a structured path toward prosperity, both in their professional and personal lives.

Bodnar, who now serves as a major in the Montana Army National Guard, assumed the role of university president in Jan. 2018 after a long and distinguished career in and out of the military.

After graduating first in his class at West Point, Bodnar served in the 101st Airborne Division, with the Green Berets and as a special assistant to the commanding general in Iraq.

Later, Bodnar received both the Rhodes and Truman scholarships and earned two graduate degrees from the University of Oxford. Subsequent stops included a stint as an economics professor at West Point and a role as a senior executive at General Electric.

“At UM, we understand what it means to serve,” Beckwith said, “and we recognize the importance of a seamless and welcoming transition for military-affiliated students.”

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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