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STARKVILLE, Miss.–Mississippi State University will be the first higher learning institution in the nation to partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide timely, specialized health benefits to veterans.

Polytrauma services–occupational, speech and physical therapies, as well as mental health services–will be available on the university’s Starkville campus, whether veterans are students or local residents.

“It’s a true partnership between the university and the VA Medical Center (in Jackson),” said psychologist Patricia Grigoryev, who led the VA’s development of the collaborative model. “We’re helping to provide specific polytrauma services for veterans so that veterans don’t have to travel as far or leave campus for services.”

The first local veteran to participate in the program visited campus Tuesday [Sept. 30] to receive physical therapy treatment.

“It’s much closer; Jackson is quite a distance to travel,” said Columbus resident Carla Bush, former U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class. “I think this will be better for me to be able to drive to Starkville instead of Jackson. I’m glad they are going to try to help me here.”

MSU President Mark E. Keenum said the partnership continues the university’s longstanding tradition of veteran support.

“Mississippi State has been recognized among the top 20 best colleges and universities nationally for military personnel and veterans to pursue their educational goals, and this partnership will be a tremendous asset for veterans,” he said. “We’ll be the first-line healthcare resource for veterans in our region. We are proud to be part of this program.”

During the summer, MSU and VA officials formalized their agreement to provide medical services in conjunction with Jackson’s G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery VA Medical Center. MSU’s G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans will act as the administrator of services, and the Jackson VA will continue to coordinate visits.

Both centers honor the 30-year U.S. House of Representatives member from Meridian who served in World War II and the Korean Conflict.

Known to his congressional colleagues as “Mr. Veteran,” Montgomery continually worked on behalf of services for current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. He led reworking of the 1944 GI Bill to include reservists and National Guard members. When passed in 1984, it was renamed the Montgomery GI Bill.

Montgomery, who died in 2006, graduated from MSU and its Army ROTC program in 1942, and his longstanding support and assistance for veteran services is reflected at his alma mater.

Since MSU was founded in 1878 as a military institution designed to be similar to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, the university has embraced a tradition of military service and support for veterans, service members, their dependents and survivors.

In this new partnership with the VA, a case manager will identify East Central Mississippi veterans and notify them about their opportunity to receive services much closer to home than the state capitol.

“If veterans here in Starkville have to go to Jackson for physical therapy three times a month, then they have to take off a whole day of work or school for an appointment that may take an hour,” said Ken McRae, director of MSU’s Montgomery Center. “We’re going to be able to give great treatment on time without significant travel, and it connects Mississippi State and the Center for America’s Veterans even more to the community.”

McRae said telehealth technology will enable patients to continue receiving services through the Jackson office from the Starkville campus.

While the VA will maintain the required equipment, including computers, cameras and microphones, individual veterans will interact directly with their Jackson-based healthcare providers. MSU employees with appropriate training and clearance will provide treatment, as well as monitor and record visits. Twenty-six MSU clinical faculty and students have already begun training.

“It will be a personalized arrangement, and our people have been through extensive training and background checks to be able to provide this support,” McRae explained.

Grigoryev emphasized the long-term benefits veterans will receive from the MSU-VA partnership.

“I think it’s a very worthy project excellent for the resources from the university to be partnered with the resources from the VA system so that we can bring better product of healthcare to the veterans,” said Grigoryev. “The more we can get services into rural areas and convenient to the veterans, the more complete their treatments can be.”

Occupational and speech therapies are available to veterans at MSU’s T.K. Martin Center that adjoins the Longest Student Health Center at 326 Hardy Rd. Physical therapy will be provided at the health center.

MSU student veterans may receive mental health services at Hathorn Hall’s Student Counseling Services on 76 Magruder St., while visiting veterans may receive assistance at the Counseling Clinic on Morgan Road.

Call 662-325-6719 to learn more about the MSU-VA partnership.

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