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Michigan honored nationally for Veteran-Friendly Schools program

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A State of Michigan program that helps military veterans connect with colleges, universities and trade schools and improves veteran services at those institutions has won a national award for its impact on veterans.

The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) was presented the 2020 Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award for its Veteran-Friendly Schools program. The award is presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA).

Through the Veteran-Friendly Schools program, MVAA recognizes Michigan higher-education institutions committed to supporting the needs of student veterans and their dependents and works with those institutions to bolster veteran services by offering webinars, grants and other training and support. In the 2019-20 school year, the 61 Veteran-Friendly Schools in Michigan served 11,143 student veterans.

“Our Veteran-Friendly Schools program illustrates our mission at the MVAA to serve as the central coordinating agency, providing support, care, advocacy and service to Michigan’s 550,000 veterans and their families,” said MVAA Director Zaneta Adams. “The program ensures veterans in Michigan have user-friendly resources readily available to make informed decisions about their educational and career pursuits.”

Launched in 2015, the Veteran-Friendly Schools program awards Gold-, Silver- and Bronze-level status to institutions that offer veteran-centric services and programs. Criteria include things like having a process for identifying student veterans on campus, a veteran-specific website, an on-campus veteran coordinator and a system to award credit for military experience.

A key part of the Veteran-Friendly Schools program is an online dashboard that lists the institutions, the criteria they meet, their website link and other important information, and allows veterans to compare veteran-specific offerings at the institutions throughout Michigan.

“The value of the Veteran-Friendly Schools program is that it provides service members and veterans with a tool to explore schools that offer the services they find important,” said MVAA Education Analyst Sarah Mellon. Postsecondary institutions interested in applying for Veteran-Friendly Schools certification can contact Mellon at mellons2@michigan.gov.

This is the fourth time in its 7-year history that the MVAA won a Pillar Award. In 2016, the state agency won two pillars — one for its Michigan Veterans Community Action Team, a community-based program that brings together local organizations to better serve veterans, and one for its Michigan Veteran Resource Service Center, a one-stop center connecting veterans to benefits and services through 1-800-MICH-VET.

In 2019, MVAA won a Pillar for its Incarcerated Veterans Program, a unique initiative that ensures incarcerated veterans receive the same measure of advocacy as other veterans.

The Pillar Awards, presented annually by the VA and NASDVA, are inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”