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UTSA Phone Campaign Will Reach Out To 1,600 Student Veterans

Students take a study break during finals week on the main campus of The University of Texas at San Antonio Dec. 11, 2017.
File Photo |Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

The University of Texas-San Antonio launched a phone campaign Friday called Operation Buddy Check. In an effort to foster connection during the pandemic, student workers and other staff plan to reach out to all 1,600 student-veterans enrolled at the university.

As UTSA prepares to resume classes online starting Monday, some members of the university community are picking up their phones as part of Operation Buddy Check.

Some advocates and psychologists worry about the social support surrounding veterans as their feelings of isolation and loneliness may be intensifying as the pandemic rages on.

“Service members are trained to be very self-sufficient, and some believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness, even though it often takes more courage and strength to ask for help,” said Sandra Morissette, a clinical psychologist, professor and chair in the UTSA Department of Psychology. “Operation Buddy Check will get around this problem by reaching out. Simply making that call can mean a world of difference.”

Under pre-pandemic conditions, veteran students were a large, highly visible presence on the UTSA campus. 

“The culture of military affiliated students at UTSA is actually pretty tight knit,” said Michael Logan, associate director of military and veteran affairs at UTSA. “There are a lot of self supporting structures in place. When new veterans come onto the campus, they know immediately who to interact with, because veterans tend to walk around with one of our t-shirts on or they're wearing something that kind of identifies them as a veteran.”

Student veterans are categorically nontraditional, meaning that they often juggle full-time work, familial obligations and other considerations in addition to academics. Nonetheless, Logan said, they typically engage with campus culture in one way or another, though they may prefer to interact with student associations online and through social media.

But after months of lockdown, Logan began to see clues that student veteran engagement was faltering, and decided UTSA should be more intentional in its outreach.

“We weren't hearing directly from the veterans in distress,” Logan said. “We were hearing from their acquaintances. In some cases, it was other veterans. In other cases, spouses were reaching out to let us know that their veteran was having issues with isolation or feelings of being disconnected.”

But the majority of the issues coming across Logan’s desk are financial.

“What we're hearing right now is about fiscal exigency,” he said. “So, you have students that are out of work, or you have students that used to count on paychecks from reserve duty. And, of course, annual training for reserve obligations is getting moved around to try to adjust to a remote environment.” 

Students who aren’t getting the paychecks they need to support themselves may not know what resources are available to them. 

Operation Buddy Check volunteers can make referrals to food pantries, emergency housing help, counseling services and other resources. Volunteers come from the student worker population, the UTSA Peace Center and affinity groups like the Rowdy Warrior Veteran Alliance. 

Texas A&M-San Antonio put together a similar phone call campaign earlier in the pandemic.

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.

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Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame