“Incredible” and “tremendous” are just two of many words Scott R. Blackburn, interim deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, used about the facilities and people connected with Middle Tennessee State University’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center.
Blackburn 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. 26 after 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. It was good to see the VA so well integrated here.”
“This is tremendous,” Blackburn added. “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 student Delaney Dickey and student veterans Darrell Wright and Daniel Weedon.
Conrad is a counselor with the VetSuccess on Campus program. Struzick is a clinical social worker. The VA sends representatives to campus every Wednesday 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.
Wright, an economics and finance major from Anderson, Indiana, said 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 mural, painted by an MTSU alumnus, and a plaque for the Danielses on the exterior walls of the 2,600-square-foot center. It 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.
Blackburn also visited the Transition Home Center on the third floor of the KUC, where he met Shane Smith, the 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, noting that Blackburn’s two-hour time commitment was “pretty significant.”
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. He was named to the interim deputy secretary’s post in February 2017.
A 1999 Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate in mechanical engineering, Blackburn served in the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom. His father, grandfathers, uncles and a brother- and sister-in-law also have served the nation in uniform.
For more on the MTSU veterans center, visit www.mtsu.edu/military or call 615-904-8347.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)