UW-L, Viterbo, LHI get bronzes, gold for being Military Friendly

Viterbo chaplain credits veteran St. Francis of Assisi as key element.
UW-L ROTC Studnets
UW-La Crosse ROTC students replaced an aging bridge on Oak Trail in La Crosse’s Hixon Forest in La Crosse in October. Increasing runoff from Bliss Road created deeper ravines and the need for bigger and better bridges in the forest. (UW-L Campus News)

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Viterbo University in La Crosse earned bronze ratings for 2020-21 in the annual rankings of Military Friendly schools, pushing them closer to a top-10 level for commitment to and success in serving military students.

Also deemed Military Friendly, but in the company division, is Logistics Health Inc. in La Crosse, which the Military Friendly Co. gave a gold ranking in the health and pharmaceutical services category.

For UW-L and Viterbo, the bronze rankings in their respective divisions — UW-L in the “large public” category and Viterbo in the “private offering doctorate” — mean that they are within 30 percent of breaking into the top 10 among nearly 2,000 schools and companies nationwide.

UW-L has about 165 veterans on campus and 165 military-connected students, which can include dependents of service members or veterans.

The school offers “a full array of veteran services to serve service members, veteran students and military-connected family members,” said Jane Brannan, who coordinates UW-L’s Veteran Education Benefits. “Our goal is to assist veterans with their transition from military to college life, offer peer-to-peer mentoring and build camaraderie among service members.”

UW-L strives to help veterans acclimate to the university, guide them to succeed in the classroom and find employment after graduation, Brannan said.

Viterbo has 117 military members and dependents, said Rick Trietley, the school’s Student Affairs vice president who is a veteran himself.

“We’re very proud of it,” Treitley said of the designation, adding that it acknowledges the school’s efforts to serve veterans.

Treitley has been instrumental in ramping up the school’s veteran offerings since he came Viterbo three years ago, said the Rev. Conrad Targonski, a Franciscan priest who is chaplain at Viterbo.

“The first thing I noticed when I came here nine years ago was that it was military friendly but not much was going on,” said Targonski, who arrived at Viterbo in September 2010 after retiring with the rank of captain from the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps, having served the Marine Corps for 22 years.

Targonski said he pressed for more programs, with special concern for those who might be afflicted with post-traumatic stress.

“My office became a gathering place for veteran student contact,” he said.

Viterbo considers veterans important for three reasons, including the university’s Servant Leadership program, its nursing curriculum and the idea of healing, as well as the fact that St. Francis of Assisi who is the school’s patron was a veteran, he said.

“There is some thought that Francis may have had PTSD,” he said, also noting that veteran students derive great benefits from the school’s annual pilgrimage to Assisi.

UW-L and Viterbo, which both have Student Veterans of America chapters, participate in the UW-L Eagle Battalion Army ROTC, which also includes students from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., and Winona State University.

The Military Friendly initiated the ratings in 2003 as an advocacy effort to encourage civilian organizations and schools to recruit, retain and advance veterans as employees, entrepreneurs and students. In that launch year, fewer than 20 civilian organizations submitted surveys to become Military Friendly, a number that has grown to nearly 2,000. Its rankings are intended to provide benchmarks and set best practices standards.

LHI, which Marine veteran Don Weber founded in 1999, designs, launches and manages health and wellness programs for the Department of Defense and other clients with a national network approaching 30,000 medical, dental and behavioral health providers. It has a goal of having veterans fill 20 percent of its more than 2,000 jobs.