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Updated Apr 14, 2014 - 3:15 pm

UA opens nation's first center for veterans studying medicine

Photographed in the AHSC VETS Center is, from left, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, retired U.S. Navy captain and astronaut, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. (Photo: University of Arizona)

PHOENIX -- The University of Arizona is touting what's believed to be the first resource center in the country designed to support student veterans pursuing health degrees.

The university recently held a grand opening ceremony for the Veteran Education and Transition Services (VETS) Center located at the Arizona Health Science Center in Tucson. Among those in attendance were former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, a veteran and retired astronaut.

"Often we see in the news about vets who have PTSD, who are homeless, who lack the ability to get a job," Kelly said in a written press release. "You don't see as often in the media what vets bring to their employers. These young men and women have an incredible commitment to the country, an incredible respect for the people they work for and they tend to be highly trained in technical areas."

The new center is similar to a resource center for veterans located on the schools' main campus in Tucson. Students pursuing health science degrees attend classes at a different campus, which is why the new center was created, VETS Assistant Dean Cody Nicholls said.

Nicholls said it's important for veterans to have a place to be around other veterans and those who understand their needs.

"We know that student veterans are six times more likely to complete suicide than their peers who are non-veterans. We know that veterans don't engage in the things that traditionally research has indicated increases retention and graduation rates for students."

According to the university, the center's staff is made up of trained student veterans and meant to help transition veterans into the university setting while providing resources for those pursuing careers in medicine and healthcare. The university said its veteran population has grown to nearly 1,200.

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