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St. Francis to expand opportunities for military veterans

November 24, 2019
In The News

When men and women leave the military, they enter civilian life with skills learned during time spent serving their country, but not necessarily the certifications needed to meet job requirements in specific fields.

The process to get the proper training can be frustrating, costly and time-consuming.

St. Francis University – through its Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation – has developed the grant-funded Veterans Accelerated Learning Program to help veterans enroll in the majority of fields at the school that require licensure after obtaining a degree.

“The scholarship is very open, which is probably the nicest part about it, I would say,” said Alanna Wilson, the center’s vice president of government affairs and public relations. “It’s anything the GI Bill doesn’t cover. Right now, we have an applicant, for instance, who is going into the physician’s assistant program at St. Francis, who is in it right now.

“The GI Bill that usually lasts 36 to 48 months isn’t going to be enough for a master’s terminal degree, so we’re going to be submitting this person and admitting them to the program that we have going on with this grant and it will cover he costs of them to obtain a physician’s assistant degree. We’ll then contact the department of state, once they graduate, and help them expedite the process of obtaining their license for Pennsylvania or any other state in the country.”

The program is in its infancy with limited participants so far, but the college is looking for more students for the spring 2020 semester.

The goal is to help expedite veterans going into programs such as physician’s assistant, occupational therapy, physical therapy, registered nursing and social work, so they can find employment quicker. In some cases, military credits could be accepted to allow a student to start school already in the range of being a sophomore or junior, Wilson said.

St. Francis is working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of State Bureau of Professional Occupations & Affairs and Veteran Community Initiatives.

Tina Pelesky, a program manager at the bureau, said the program’s benefits fit with combat military training she learned about during a recent visit to Fort Indiantown Gap.

“Everything that they do is very similar to everything that a registered nurse does, but they’re also doing trauma care,” Pelesky said. “They’re advanced in what they’re doing. They’re being tested. They told us every two weeks they’re tested. They may start with 100 people in that class, but maybe 50 finish at the end. They’re tested and they’re certified in being a combat medic. I’m not going to say a perfect transfer, but a lot of those skills – the first half of those – should go towards that license. They’re doing even more than a registered nurse would do.”

Wilson added: “I think they can handle things at Conemaugh (Memorial Medical Center) or UPMC, if they were in battle.”

Meanwhile, VCI is promoting the program in its 14-county region.

“Our job is to get the word out, to let the people know about the program and also how it can make a difference in obtaining jobs without a long, drawn-out bureaucracy,” VCI Director Tom Caulfield said.

VALP is being funded through a 3-year, $1 million U.S. Department of Labor grant – under the Veterans Accelerated Learning for Licensed Occupations project – that the university received this summer. At the end of the time period, St. Francis will issue a report about how the program worked.

“St. Francis University and the Knee Center for Study of Occupational Regulation are doing incredible work to help our veterans find rewarding employment following their service to our country,” said U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-Centre, 15th Congressional District, who helped secure the funding. “Too frequently, veterans have been faced with burdensome occupational licensing requirements that present unnecessary challenges to post-military employment.

St. Francis is known as a Military Friendly institution and is certainly deserving of this grant, which I am confident will help empower veteran student populations and equip them with the tools they need for the workforce.”