Response to Concerns About Behavioral Health Programs

LEXINGTON, Va., Dec. 7, 2016 -- The Institute released the following memorandum to the VMI community today:                                                                                                                                              

MEMORANDUM FOR ALUMNI, PARENTS, FACULTY, STAFF, AND CADETS                                         

SUBJECT:  Response to Recent Social Media in Regards to VMI Behavioral Health Programs 

The Virginia Military Institute is committed to the well-being of all VMI cadets, faculty, staff and our employees while adhering to the requirements of our rigorous, tough, Spartan environment.  VMI continues to have one of the hardest four year academic, physical and discipline experiences in the nation. The reality is that suicide rates and mental health issues continue to be on the rise, particularly for young adults.  While our losses in cadets, staff, faculty, and employees over my fourteen year tenure have been small … and one is too many … VMI has not been exempt from these tragedies.  Despite full reviews of applicants during our admissions process and in hiring practices, we face mental health issues daily.  The Institute took the initiative several years ago to implement a series of optional courses, best practices, bystander intervention, and other actions that have been proven to successfully treat the members of our armed services suffering from similar conditions … and are also seen on campuses across the country. 

VMI believes it is appropriate and has a responsibility to expose our cadets to a various set of life skills, including methods of dealing with the implications associated with substance abuse, depression, nutrition, sleep deprivation, stress and anxiety.  This is particularly the case at this time of year with added stressors brought on by the holidays and exam periods.  No one should assume that VMI coddles its cadets or has become soft.  In fact, the Institute is more difficult academically and physically than my time years ago … and I am proud these young men and women elected this difficult path strewn with challenges far different from many of their high school classmates and contemporaries … and far different than our time. 

Recent social media postings have inaccurately portrayed the “stress busters” program as including coloring books.  A far more accurate and realistic description of our efforts are as follows: 

  • This optional program is conducted during a 3 hour period on Reading Day.  Reading Day is one day each semester between the end of classes and the beginning of exams. Cadets have no other obligations except personal time to prepare and study for final exams.  It is run by our outstanding counselors and supported by cadet peer educators. 
  • The intent of the program is to afford cadets a 30 minute study break during the morning and early afternoon.  An information table provides pamphlets on stress relief techniques, tobacco cessation tips, sleep hygiene, nutrition tips, fitness tips, health and wellness etc…
  • At any given time, about 15-20 cadets can be seen coming through the Old Barracks Courtyard to spend a few minutes there before moving to their room or to academic buildings to study for exams.  There is nothing mandated or required of any cadet … it is simply a set of resources that are available to them. 
  • Almost all of the cadets that pass through the courtyard take advantage of beverages and snacks.  Many come through in small groups of roommates or study mates and spend a few minutes socializing or petting a certified service dog.  Many cadets use their time to go on a long run or lift weights in the gym.  Some will utilize a yoga certified instructor. 
  • There are no coloring books available or distributed.  There is a one sheet handout with an intricate design that may be used to color, within discreet, small lines as part of the information packet along with other modalities that are recognized as ways to reduce stress.  This technique has been used in programs across the nation and is backed by data as to its effectiveness.

Teaching cadets how to manage stress is not mutually exclusive with creating a stressful, challenging, demanding educational experience that we provide at VMI.  Men and women that effectively manage stress are not weaker, but stronger. They can perform to higher levels in the most stressful circumstances whether on the battlefield, in the board room, the operating room, or instructing in the classroom. 

The Institute hopes that all would appreciate the seriousness of this national issue and appreciate that we are sensitive to maintaining tough demanding standards, while understanding risk and risk mitigation as our responsibility. 


J. H. Binford Peay III ’62

General, U.S. Army (Retired)



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