USM center helps military veterans afford college degrees

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The University of Southern Mississippi is gaining a reputation as a military-friendly school after boosting scholarships for veterans and creating a special center aimed at helping them get a college degree.

Since the university's Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families opened a year ago, it has created 14 scholarships for students who are veterans.

"One thousand dollars creates a scholarship. One thousand dollars goes a long way," said Jeff Hammond, a retired Army major general who works as special adviser on military veteran student affairs for the university.

The Hattiesburg American reports ( ) that the center also is drawing more students with a military background to campus by recruiting from military bases in Texas, Florida and Georgia.

Hammond said he is working to raise awareness about Southern Miss in the military community, create more scholarships and provide job assistance for veterans on campus. His three-year plan for the center is to make the university known as the most military-friendly school in the nation.

Efforts began in 2013 to capture these military students. Since then, Southern Miss was named among "Top Schools" in the 2015 Military Advanced Education Guide to Colleges and Universities. The Military Order of the Purple Heart designated Southern Miss a "Purple Heart University" for its commitment to student veterans who are wounded in combat.

"You are not just another number. You are the priority," said Cody Abadie, 26, a Navy veteran and senior at the university majoring in anthropology.

Hammond describes his three-year plan as "rolling" because different issues continue to emerge and shape the center's mission.

He said when he recently attended a pre-Veterans Day event, three students with military backgrounds talked about high rates of suicide among veterans. Hammond now is working with his staff to incorporate this issue into the center's agenda.

"We want to do more," he said.

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