UCF Salutes Veterans

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In honor of Veterans Day, the UCF Alumni Association thanks all of the members of our U.S. Armed Forces — past and present —
for their service, dedication and sacrifice.

Since 2001, 2.7 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly one in 10 returns with post-traumatic stress disorder. Within a year of returning home, three in 10 will be diagnosed.

We’re proud to share some of the great things our alma mater is doing to assist our men and women in uniform, including:

UCF RESTORES Clinical Research Center

As part of the UCF Department of Psychology in the College of Sciences, UCF RESTORES is a clinical research center dedicated to the study of all facets of anxiety, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, including etiology, psychopathology, treatment, resilience and prevention.

The following video highlights the remarkable success that the UCF RESTORES clinic is finding in helping veterans master traumatic memories:

Veterans Academic Resource Center

The Veterans Academic Resource Center is a one-stop solution for the needs of student veterans.

The center ensures student veterans access to all available campus resources, provides study space and special tutoring, helps faculty and staff understand these students’ unique needs, and provides them the tools needed to stay on track and complete their degrees.

The VARC has been designated as a center for excellence for veteran-student success. And, since 2011, UCF has been named a “Military-Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs.


A Month of Honor and Remembrance

UCF is honoring veterans all month long, with a commemorative ceremony and other activities, which, so far, have included an open house and student-veteran appreciation lunch at the Veterans Academic Resource Center, a free screening of the documentary “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History,” a flag display on Memory Mall, and a Veterans Day parade at Universal Studios.

Still to come:

  • Saturday, Nov. 14 | Several UCF organizations and departments will participate in the City of Orlando Veterans Day Parade, honoring the men and women of the armed forces. This year’s parade will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
  • Monday, Nov. 16 | Student-veterans are invited to attend Light Up UCF’s Military Appreciation Night. Contact Joshua Johnson at 407.823.5874 for more info.
  • Thursday, Nov. 19 | In gratitude of active military, reserves, veterans and first responders, they can register for complimentary tickets to the UCF vs. East Carolina football game for Military Appreciation Knight, and will also be extended to the UCF vs. USF game on Thursday, Nov. 26. GET TICKETS (Click on the “TICKETS” tab on the top banner, search “UCF Football” and select your seats. GOVX members will receive a complimentary ticket. Up to four additional tickets will be available at $20.)

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Sciences

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College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson presented the college’s 2015 Professional Achievement Award to James Rosengren, ’81.
James Rosengren, ’81 | Founder/Chairman/CEO, Heritage Health Solutions Inc.

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Sciences presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to James Rosengren at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from UCF, Jim went on to earn his master’s degree in healthcare administration at Baylor University in 1991. 

Before becoming the chairman and CEO of Heritage Health Solutions Inc., he was the vice president of political and government relations for Health Net Federal Services Inc. He also served in the U.S. Army, earning multiple medals, the Legion of Merit Award and Congressional Veteran Commendation.

Jim is a fellow at the American College of Healthcare Executives, and is a member of several veterans and military organizations.

Learn more about Jim:

Black & Gold Gala 2015 — Professional Achievement Award
College of Nursing

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College of Nursing Dean Mary Lou Sole presented the college’s 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Thomas Weichart, ’04, ’14.
Thomas Weichart, ’04, ’14 | Clinical Nursing Director, ONI Medical Associates

The UCF Alumni Association and College of Nursing presented their 2015 Professional Achievement Award to Tom Weichart at the annual Black & Gold Gala on Oct. 22.

Prior to his current career ventures, Tom held various nursing positions, including the role of presidential executive nurse with the White House Medical Unit. He also served in the U.S. Army, with stints at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, N.C.; 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq; and 240th Forward Surgical Team in Macedonia and Kosovo.

His education in the health-care field began in 1993 and continues to this day. He earned a BS in nursing from the University of Florida in 1995; an MS in health services administration from Central Michigan University in 1999; an MS in critical care nursing from UCF in 2004; a post-graduate health profession education certificate in 2004; an MA in theology/theological studies from Liberty University in 2010; post-graduate certificate as a family nurse practitioner from UCF in 2014; and is currently attending UCF for a nurse practitioner doctorate, scheduled to graduate next year.

Learn more about Tom:

Battling PTSD at the UCF RESTORES Clinic

With an intensive new approach to exposure therapy, UCF clinicians and graduate students are finding remarkable success in helping veterans master traumatic memories. But the Department of Defense grant that funds their work runs out next year.

Just reading the labels on the rows of little jars seems like enough to trigger a traumatic memory: CORDITE, DIESEL FUEL, BURNING TRASH, BODY ODOR, GUNPOWDER, BURNT HAIR. And if it doesn’t, the carefully concocted scents inside — delivered to patients’ nostrils with precision fans while they “see” corresponding visuals inside high-tech headsets — almost certainly will.

But that’s exactly the idea behind this kind of exposure therapy — to deliberately return  patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, via virtual reality, to the scenes and situations that haunt them. “If we do this repeatedly,” says UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel, “say, ‘okay, take me through what happened to you,’ while the memory may remain, it loses its ability to elicit anxiety and allows them to once again function in the world.”

It’s by no means an easy process though. With virtual reality headsets, audio equipment, scent machines and even a pad underfoot to simulate the vibration of explosions, Beidel and her colleagues and graduate students can recreate with almost disturbing fidelity the exact traumatic events that patients remember. On occasion, the responses have been intense enough that patients have vomited during therapy.

Still, it works, as it did for Marine First Sergeant Doug Hester, who came to UCF RESTORES — an on-campus clinic for active duty personnel and veterans who developed PTSD as a result of serving in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts — struggling with anxiety and hypervigilance and growing steadily more isolated from his former life and the people in it.

After a 17-week program of virtual reality exposure therapy to address anxiety, combined with carefully designed group therapy to address anger, social isolation and depression, Hester says he’s back to his old self. “We got in there and addressed the issue,” he says, which was exactly what he wanted to do, instead of more traditional talk therapy or medication.

In fact, that combination of intense exposure therapy with targeted group therapy works for a remarkable number of patients. At the end of the treatment — either the 17-week program Hester did or an intensive, three-week program — more than 60 percent of patients no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

The problem, to put it very simply, is there are too many Hesters and not enough Beidels. The $5 million Department of Defense grant that allowed Beidel to establish the clinic in 2011 only covers treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, not those from other conflicts. Nor does it allow Beidel and her colleagues to treat other groups, like first responders, who actually suffer from PTSD at a higher rate than the military. “We turn away a lot of people,” she says.

Even among the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that UCF RESTORES is funded to treat, the clinic is hardly able to scratch the surface of the overwhelming need for care. Patients — who are referred from all over the country by Veterans Administration personnel, private clinicians and on-base psychologists — go through treatment in groups of four to six at a time, which doesn’t do much to defray the long waits — sometimes over a year — for PTSD treatment from the VA.

The only realistic answer, of course, lies in exponentially increasing the number of clinicians trained in this new kind of treatment. “A lot of clinicians are afraid to do exposure therapy with people with combat-related PTSD,” says Beidel. “They don’t know how to do it, and they believe the myths. We have data to show that even in this intensive program, people don’t increase alcohol use, don’t become more suicidal. None of those things that people think should happen, happen.”

So, alongside treating as many patients as possible, another of Beidel’s primary objectives is training as many clinicians as possible. The way she sees it, her graduate students will leave campus and establish their own practices or clinics, or join the faculty at other universities, where they’ll not only treat more patients but also train more clinicians, who in turn will train more, creating a ripple effect that has the potential to make a real difference.

Additionally, Beidel hopes to bring postdoctoral fellows, medical students, practicing clinicians and others to the clinic to train them in the same interventions. The demand is already there, she says, just not the funding, since current grants don’t cover training.

That crucial Department of Defense grant runs out soon, and at the point, absent some additional funding source, Beidel and her colleagues will essentially shut the doors. They’ll continue their research, of course, and continue training graduate students, but there won’t be any more money to pay for the costs of treatment — equipment, supplies, and the licensed clinicians required to keep the doors open. “You can’t run a project with people with this level of emotional distress with graduate students,” Beidel says, “because they can’t be available for emergencies, they can’t take on the number of participants that are in need of treatment, they can’t keep a clinic open 40 hours a week, which is what we need.”

More Info

UCF RESTORES

Veterans Share Stories through UCF History Project

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A veteran shares his story of military life through UCF’s Community Veterans History Project.
(PHOTO: Courtesy of Tiffany Rivera)

By Bridgette Norris
Digital Producer, Central Florida Future

Sitting in his kitchen, Navy veteran Jim Middlekauff, ’99, tells the tale of a time many students today couldn’t imagine.

The UCF alumnus is one of many to share his personal story through the UCF Community Veterans History Project, an interdisciplinary campus project and collaboration of several different departments, which started in 2010 in support of the Regional Initiative for Collecting the History, Experiences and Stories of Central Florida.

“From my experiences, and the experiences of all veterans, students can learn that freedom is not free,” says Middlekauff, former assistant for the University Registrar for Veterans Services at UCF. “Veterans dedicate their lives through their service, and the Veterans History Project is a unique narrative where students can get a personal perspective of the life of a veteran and the role that military personnel have played in securing our freedom and way of life.”

Once the project came to campus, the departments quickly made a goal to serve as significant contributors to the national initiative, the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress.

All veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces, on active or reserve status, are welcome to participate.

Eligible veterans can also be those who have experience in wartime and peacetime, served in combat units, supported units behind the lines, and trained and held administrative positions at home.

After the veterans are interviewed, the recordings are archived and preserved in the UCF Library’s Digital Collections. Interviews that meet the national project qualification of being at least 30 minutes long with no breaks or pauses are sent off to the national project.

“I came to this position with a true interest in supporting veterans … and a passion for veterans and their stories being told,” says Tiffany Rivera, assistant director of educational and training programs. “It is a way to get the public involved in their own history in ways that are relevant and that are outside of the traditional classroom.”

So far, the campus project has interviewed more than 400 veterans through varying methods.

For the first two years, students conducted the interviews either voluntarily or through a class.

Now, along with this approach, a peer-to-peer initiative has been adopted, through which participants in the project go out into the community and train residents to do interviews with their peers.

There are also corporate interview days when participants travel to corporations to conduct interviews with veterans who are employees at places such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and JHT Inc.

“Because the interviews are available online and accessible to the public, it’s a great way for researchers to find information they won’t be able to find in a textbook per se,” Rivera explains. “Some want students to understand what they have done and appreciate the freedom they have and sacrifices they have given.”

Initially, the project was collecting about 50 interviews per year, and now about 50 are conducted each semester. Rivera credits the increase in interviews to the community’s involvement and peer-to-peer interviews.

“I have learned that veterans are not always respected in the way they should be, and this project has taught me that each story is unique, each experience is unique and you don’t have to have some big combat story to have contributed,” she says.

As a 22-year veteran, Middlekauff says he felt obligated to assist with the project because valuable military history is being lost nationwide as the number of veterans of previous wars are declining.

“Military history is an important part of our country’s history,” he says. “This is a history that, without being told, would be lost forever.”

While the project has expanded to more than just student efforts, students still play a major role.

Daniel Bradfield, a former UCF graduate research assistant, says oral histories provide students with an opportunity to learn about individuals from a specific period of time and hear personal experiences with historical events and people.

“I enjoyed hearing people’s stories and using historical research to investigate people’s lives and adding their individual voices on a topic,” he says. “Additionally, I became interested with the interview process and building a valid and interesting oral history project.”

Any student is able and encouraged to get involved in the project.

“Our students do these interviews and walk away with their eyes huge because they have talked to someone who has experienced something really foreign to them,” Rivera says. “More and more families don’t have a service member, so hearing these stories is a unique opportunity.

“This project is a way to capture history while it’s still alive.”

This story appeared in an Aug. 6, 2015, edition of the Central Florida Future online. It has been slightly edited in accordance with AP and alumni association style guidelines. See original article. 

More Info

riches.cah.ucf.edu/veterans

From Boots to Loafers

Alumnus helps fellow veteran Knights transition from military service to the business industry

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John Phillips, ’82 | Director of Finance, System of the Future, The Coca-Cola Company

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Joining the military was never a question for John Phillips, ’82. It’s been in his family’s blood for more than two centuries, tracing his heritage back to William Harper, a Scotch Irishman, who traveled from Belfast to Charleston, S.C., on the ship Earl of Donegal in the mid-1700s, settling in Lancaster County.

More recently, his uncle David Phillips served in the U.S. Navy during World War II; his aunt Marion Phillips Scherer served as U.S. Navy nurse stationed at Walter Reed Hospital and in Panama, also during World War II; another uncle, Charles Phillips, served in the U.S. Air Force; and his father, Steve Phillips Jr., served as an officer in the U.S. Army Infantry for 30 years, fighting in World War II and the Vietnam War.

“The tradition lives on with the newest addition, my nephew Steve Phillips IV, who currently serves in the U.S. Naval Reserve (and is an Orange County Deputy Sheriff),” he says. “My family has established a proud history of service and love of liberty, which is now simply a part of our DNA.”

Phillips began his military journey after graduating from Oviedo High School. He was in the field artillery and spent a year in Oklahoma and two years in Augsburg, Germany. After receiving an honorable discharge two weeks after returning home, he started college at Valencia, with a concentration in business administration.

When he transferred to UCF, he joined the Army ROTC program — eventually becoming its corps commander — and was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a field artillery officer. During his career, he was stationed in Oklahoma, Germany, Colorado, Kentucky, Georgia and Saudi Arabia.

Through his experiences, he says he learned he can endure hostile weather and conditions and still come out just fine on the other end.

Retired from the Army, Phillips works as director of finance for the System of the Future at The Coca-Cola Company — an organization that has a long-standing relationship with the Armed Forces, dating back to World War II.

He credits his UCF business degree as the reason he’s worked in corporate finance at Coca-Cola for the past 16 years, as well as the reason that allowed him to be selected as a U.S. Army comptroller.

Now, he’s sharing his military and business experiences in his first book, “Boots to Loafers: Finding Your True North.”

“I’ve had [the book] in my mind for more than a decade,” he explains. “[It] details how our veterans, who have fought the good fight, can now find a new ‘true north’ to help guide them through the journey toward their second life, or new normal, outside the gate.”

Phillips had the opportunity to speak with fellow veterans about his book and experiences during the UCF Book Festival in April.

“I’m an avid veterans’ advocate, and helping those who will follow in my tracks is what I love to do,” he says. “I didn’t have anyone doing that for me when I retired, and I wish I did.”

Reporting for Q&A Duty

Q. What’s your least favorite word?
A. I have three off the top of my head. One is “dude.” I hate it. And, if anyone says it to me, I correct them quickly. I’d also say “no” is not one of my favorites either. It takes three “no”s to make me go away, and then there’s no guarantees. And last, “supposed to” or “should.” I hate it when people say this, because they are assuming something.

Q. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
A. Play the guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughn!

Q. What/who makes you laugh out loud?
A. Another 1982 UCF graduate and my best friend, Jim Lilly. We met on the practice football field at Oviedo High School trying to get the starting position on the team. We’ve been best friends for more than four decades, and he lives right down the road from me here in Georgia!

Q. What’s your favorite movie?
A. I have three: “Dirty Dozen,” “Jeremiah Johnson” and “The Great Escape.”

Q. What’s the best concert you ever attended?
A. Eagles, 1977, Munich Olympia Halle. An incredible concert.

Q. What’s your favorite place to visit?
A. Three places come to mind: British Virgin Islands, St. George Island, and the great state of Idaho.

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. Patience. Go on vacation with six children and you learn to exercise a tremendous amount of patience and understanding. What we take for granted, they are just learning. Coach, teach, and mentor — just like I learned in the U.S. Army — holds true with kids.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. From my father: “Always take the harder right!”

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. I was inspired by my father. The things he did in his lifetime were incredible. He was one of the Greatest Generation… He was raised on a farm in rural South Carolina and went to Clemson College (was not a university back then) on a Sears & Roebuck scholarship, was in World War II and Vietnam, and retired from the U.S. Army as a Colonel. After his military career, he sold brick across the state of Florida, and much of UCF is his brick.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. My wife and I love the British Virgin Islands. I also head west with my brother and close friends, and we either whitewater raft or canoe in remote locations through the western U.S. I’m an avid outdoorsman and love being in very remote and primitive locations.

More Info

www.bootstoloafers.com

Mission: Mental Health for Veterans

Workshop targets trauma issues experienced by members of the military

Col. Jeffrey Yarvis (center in uniform) with School of Social Work Director Bonnie Yegidis (left in front row) and veterans who participated in the workshop
Col. Jeffrey Yarvis (center in uniform) and School of Social Work Director Bonnie Yegidis (left in front row) gathered with veterans who participated in the Subtleties of Trauma Spectrum Disorders workshop at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.
Veterans Reintegration Workshop | COHPA Alumni Chapter

By Karen Guin

United States Army Col. Jeffrey Yarvis drew from decades of experience in military social work to describe the challenges faced by returning veterans during an information-packed and deeply personnel presentation at UCF.

Yarvis is a decorated officer, a published scholar with a doctorate and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He currently serves as chief of the Department of Social Work at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.

Approximately 75 military veterans, students, and social work alumni and practitioners gathered to hear him speak at the “Subtleties of Trauma Spectrum Disorders” workshop offered Nov. 6 by the School of Social Work and College of Health and Public Affairs Alumni Chapter.

Yarvis shared data and statistics on U.S. veteran populations, and he showed video clips to illustrate changes in attitudes toward soldiers who are traumatized or grieving. He spoke extensively about the impact of war-related stress on veterans and their families.

“About 80 percent of returning veterans will exhibit some changes in behavior,” Yarvis said. “Those who are deployed more than once have a greater chance of a clinical diagnosis.”

Some returning veterans experience symptoms commonly associated with traumatic stress, such as fear, anxiety, grief, depression and sleep disturbance. A smaller number exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which may include physical symptoms and always includes these symptoms: 1) re-experiencing trauma, such as nightmares and flashbacks; 2) avoidance, such as feelings of numbness and detachment; and 3) arousal, such as anger and hypervigilance.

“These are very complex issues for mental health care givers to negotiate,” Yarvis said. “It’s hard to quantitate these symptoms, and they manifest themselves differently in different people.”

Yarvis described his own behavioral changes when he returned home from deployment. He exhibited risky and aberrant behavior, became easily frustrated, and turned to alcohol to deal with his insomnia. Several participants said they found his candidness quite helpful.

“He spoke your language,” said UCF student Lyndon Ortiz, a senior in social work and U.S. Marines veteran who served in Iraq until he was injured.

Yarvis is encouraged to see military social work coming into its own as a profession. “I love that UCF has a military program,” he said, referring to UCF’s Graduate Certificate in Military Social Work program, which prepares master’s degree-level social workers to help veterans and their families.

Social work senior Kristopher Vite plans to enroll in the program while pursuing his master’s degree in social work at UCF. He is a U.S. Army veteran, and like Ortiz he served in Iraq until he was injured. Both Vite and Ortiz aim to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers so they can work with veterans like themselves.

U.S. Air Force veteran and UCF alumnus Charlie Antoni (B.S.W., ’95) is already on the front lines, working as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and palliative care coordinator for the Orlando VA Medical Center. He is educating local physicians and nurses, and he is developing networks of community support that he will help place at the new VA hospital in Lake Nona.

Also on the front lines is U.S. Army veteran Richard Whitten, who works as a peer-support specialist at the Daytona Beach Vet Center. “A lot of the homeless vets I meet have PTSD symptoms, but it’s hard to convince them to come in for help,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot today that I can take back with me.”

Yarvis concluded his nearly three-hour presentation by commending the participants. “What you are doing is incredibly important,” he said. “You are helping veterans grieve and return to their lives.”