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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Life + Arts

A day in the life of a Veterans Services Program coordinator


Dealing with academic and personal needs is what Veterans Services Program Coordinator Lawren Bradberry deals with to ensure a smooth transition for veteran students. | Sara Samora/The Daily Cougar

UH Veterans Services Program Coordinator Lawren Bradberry walks through the door a bit past noon and a little out of breath. She’s not late, though; she just came from a doctor’s appointment at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

When Bradberry walks through the door, she is usually stopped by a student veteran waiting for assistance on degree plans and the GI Bill process.

“People think this job is easy and that I don’t have a lot to do, but I deal with a lot of individual students over the phone and email,” Bradberry said. “I deal with a lot of people who are dealing with academic crisis or personal crisis, and I have to get them to the proper help via the dean of students office, via the VA or social services, either on campus or off campus. It’s a lot of moving and shaking that’s involved in finding resources — the appropriate resources.”

Bradberry is not only a veteran, but also a mental and behavioral health non-commissioned officer at the Army Reserve’s 4005th U.S. Army Hospital. She credits her degree in social work, her active duty service and transition into the reserves that have kept her tapped in with those coming off active duty and those who are active reserve members.

“Having the training for so many years helps me to recognize when people are in crisis. It helps me to know what avenue to take when getting them to the help they need — what’s urgent and what’s not urgent,” Bradberry said. “It is comforting to not have to be the interventionist; I’m merely the guy to get people to the health that they need, kind of like an usher, I guess you can say.”

Geology student and VSO representative Mark Ferguson said Bradberry knew what benefits he had when he needed help.

“I think she’s great at what she does,” Ferguson said. “She’s very motivated when it comes to helping out veterans.  You can tell it’s a passion.”

Management information systems junior Son Cu, from Florida, said Bradberry also helped him with tuition waivers when the Welcome Center was unable to.

“At one point in time, I didn’t know about the out-of-state tuition waiver, and I didn’t know how to resolve it,” Cu said. “Bradberry talked to the VA-certified official, and it was resolved in a few days. She’s helped a lot of people; she’s gone out of her way.”

Bradberry also helps students with legal and adjusting issues.

“It actually comes up more frequent than not,” Bradberry said. “Usually, I speak more to students who want to come to UH, who haven’t had an easy time filling out applications and applying for their benefits ahead of time. With students using the GI Bill, you need to know what you want to do and if you can do it before you start your program.”

Bradberry ran around getting ready for Friday night’s Military and Veterans Graduate Ceremony, where student veterans received patriot cords to be worn at commencement. Her Army Class A uniform was carefully hung up on a chair so as not to touch the floor.

When the time arrived to change into her uniform, liberal studies senior Khaliah Johnson helped Bradberry put on the uniform, ensuring the minor details were in place.

“I think putting events together reaffirm her great ability in organizing events, especially for the veteran communities,” Johnson said. “She’s always so nervous, but I think she did a really great job (at the graduate ceremony).”

Throughout the ceremony, while Bradberry nodded her head in agreement during the keynote speaker’s speech,  a tear or two escaped from her eye.

“I’ve been in the Army 15 years, and I’ve seen the damage that can be done when you get caught up in trying to reintegrate,” Bradberry said. “I lost one of my soldiers; I’ve lost patients due to suicide, alcoholism and incarceration.”

When Bradberry worked in the nonprofit sector with homeless Vietnam veterans, she listened to them recount memories. She said she felt as though life would have turned out differently for them if someone had been there to catch them before they fell.

“I feel like we should be proactive versus reactive. I don’t want to wait until somebody’s destitute to be there to help them and try to patch up their wounds,” Bradberry said.

“I’d rather drive hard at it now, so that they could be fully reintegrated, be functional and be there to help their other buddies, who are coming behind them. I am driven by survival — their survival and my own. I don’t want people to have an OK life, I want people to have an extraordinary life.”

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