Incredible and tremendous are just two of many words national Veterans Affairs official Scott R. Blackburn said about the facilities and people connected with Middle Tennessee State University’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center.
Blackburn, interim deputy secretary of the VA, toured the center and had lunch with university President Sidney A. McPhee, five student veterans and others Tuesday (Aug. 8). Keith M. Huber, MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, led the tour.
While in Murfreesboro to learn about the VA-provided services offered at the center in the Keathley University Center, Blackburn also visited the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System’s Alvin C. York Campus. Jennifer Vedral-Baron, health system director, accompanied him on the MTSU tour.
“This is incredible. I haven’t seen anything else like this at another college,” said Blackburn, who was appointed to his current position Feb. 26after previously serving as interim executive director of the MyVA Task Force.
After the veterans center tour, Blackburn said he could “see the passion of Gen. Huber and that of the workforce and student veterans.” He added it was “good to see the VA so well integrated here.”
“This is tremendous,” Blackburn said. “I wish we could capture it and replicate this at other universities.”
While touring the office area, he met fellow VA employees Heather Conrad and Betty Struzick and posed for photographs with Delaney Dickey and MTSU student veterans Darrell Wright and Daniel Weedon.
Conrad is a counselor with the VetSuccess on Campus program. Struzick is a clinical social worker. Also, VA sends representatives on everyWednesday year-round to assist student veterans and their families.
Dickey, a senior journalism major from Nashville and Ansbach, Germany, told Blackburn she comes from a military family and “tries to give back” because she understands the commitment MTSU’s student veterans and their families have made in service to their country.
For Wright, an economics and finance major from Anderson, Indiana, his role as a student worker is to “try and get them through” the process.
“Thank you all for what you do,” Blackburn said.
Huber showed Blackburn the MTSU alumnus-painted mural and plaque for the Danielses on the outside walls of the 2,600-square-foot center that opened in November 2015, and included a visit by a Blackburn predecessor, Sloan Gibson, who happened to be a West Point classmate of Huber’s.
Making another impression on Blackburn was the Daniels Center Veterans Transitioning Home Office on the third floor of the KUC. He metShane Smith, employer search agent, who assists student veterans with finding jobs with companies and recruits businesses to hire MTSU students.
Huber told Blackburn about “the reality and commitment of leadership” from MTSU.
“He is giving us about two hours of his time, and that’s pretty significant,” Huber said of Blackburn.
Born in Concord, Massachusetts, Blackburn joined the VA in November 2014 as senior adviser to the secretary on VA transformation. In this capacity, he helped conceive, design, launch and manage VA’s transformation initiative to provide veterans more consistent, high-quality experiences.
A 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate in mechanical engineering, Blackburn served in the U.S. Army. He served during Operation Enduring Freedom. His father, grandfathers, uncles and both a brother- and sister-in-law have served the nation in uniform.