GMG grad, Garwin native is UI’s new counselor focused on Veterans, military-connected students
IOWA CITY — As the University of Iowa continues to support the mental health of everyone on campus, a new embedded counselor this fall is dedicated to serving those who served their country.
Chuck Xander, an Iowa native and combat veteran, began working this semester in a newly created position as embedded counselor focused on Veterans and military-connected students on campus. His office is in the Iowa Veteran Education, Transition, and Support (IVETS) office in Calvin Hall.
Xander graduated from GMG High School in Garwin before attending William Penn University to earn a degree in the human services field. He then enlisted in the Iowa Army National Guard 234th Signal Battalion and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He then received a master’s degree in mental health counseling from the University of Northern Iowa and has more than 20 years of mental health counseling experience.
He says he discovered he fit well into human services work while in school. He found a love of helping young people during an internship working with juveniles, where he saw his words and empathy could make a difference.
Xander also says his status as a veteran allows him to better aid others who have served.
“I can talk to them and have empathy for what they are going through,” Xander says. “I can help calm them down and help them process what they’ve gone through. When you’re in the military, you’re generally told not to deal with emotions, so a lot of Veterans do not want to share their feelings. I can understand, validate their feelings, and empathize with them.”
The UI has more than 600 students who are veterans, in addition to more than 160 National Guard and Reserve members, and more than 50 Air Force and Army ROTC cadets.
“When you’re in the military, you’re generally told not to deal with emotions, so a lot of veterans do not want to share their feelings. I can understand, validate their feelings, and empathize with them.”
Because of his veteran status, Xander has already helped students feel more comfortable approaching him with their challenges or fears. Xander — who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, grief, and communication skills — says veterans may be struggling with the trauma they experienced while serving their country.
“They see me here,” he says. “They see me eating in the dining hall. They see me as a human. “Students can trust they’ll be heard, feel respected, and have a go-to person in the Veteran community.”
Before Xander was hired, the university had embedded counselors in four locations across campus — in the College of Dentistry, College of Law, Tippie College of Business, and in Catlett Residence Hall — but there was no counselor position specifically designed to address Veterans’ needs. Embedded counselors are dedicated to working within a specific community and have specialized knowledge about those being served.
IVETS was established at Iowa in 2012 to serve Veterans, current military service members, and their families. According to campus data, the average age of Veteran students and current service members is 27.
Matthew Miller, IVETS director of student support services, says discussions about an embedded counselor for Veterans began around 2017.
“The need for counseling services has been constant,” he says. “A lot of students didn’t know where to turn in a crisis. They didn’t know who to talk to.”
The breakthrough that finally made the position a reality came in 2022, when the Scanlan Family Foundation gave $15 million to the UI College of Education — the largest gift in the college’s history — to expand support for school mental health and veterans. Following the gift, the college’s Iowa Center for School Mental Health was renamed the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health.
Patrick Scanlan, a veteran himself, and his wife, Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan, say it was important to them to support the mental health needs of all Iowans, but especially veterans, those serving in the military, and their families.
“We wanted to support veterans and military families who often need additional support around mental health and well-being,” Patrick Scanlan says. “We could not think of a better way to support veterans, and we are glad to see our gift making a difference in the lives of Veterans, active military members, and their families.”
UI College of Education Dean Daniel L. Clay says that Xander brings a great blend of empathy and expertise to the role of embedded counselor because of his own military service and educational background.
“We’re grateful to Mary and Patrick for their support in providing this critical mental health support for students who are active military, Veterans, and military-connected families on campus,” Clay says. “We’re fortunate to have Chuck’s expertise on our campus and community helping veterans.”
The embedded counselor position within IVETS was created with the combined efforts of the Scanlan Center, College of Education, Division of Student Life, University Counseling Service, and University College. Miller says it is the only embedded counselor for veterans within the Big Ten and likely one of few such positions across the country.
“When we introduced this (counselor) to the students, promptly within the first hour Chuck had two appointments booked,” Miller says. “We knew the students wanted this, and we’re already starting to see students using this service. We want to make this a model and show our commitment to serving our students. We want to make the University of Iowa a destination for veterans.”
Tara Lamb, IVETS director of academic resources, says IVETS also hopes Xander’s role can serve as a model for Veterans centers across the country when it comes to mental health.
“Students know they are being heard, which is key,” she says. “We feel really lucky we can offer this service to them.”