By Paula Christine Schuler
Veterans are estimated to be just under one-sixth of the students attending this college.
Jennifer Alviso, director of disability support services and veterans affairs, said the office of veterans affairs serves more than 3,000 veterans. Enrollment this semester is 19,442.
Alviso said veterans have to self-report their veteran status, and they may or may not opt to use education benefits through the offices of veterans affairs or disability support services.
Counselor Rosa Marie Gonzalez said it is impossible to generalize about veterans. They are all as different and unique as civilians.
“There are a certain percentage who do come back with issues they need to really deal with such as anger, depression, adjustment to family. Those are things that I don’t think are across the board,” Gonzalez said.
“If you think about it, in the military, you’ve got a tight-knit group, and they deploy or discharge and go home and try to integrate back as a person into a whole different set of experiences.”
Veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder and struggle with classroom situations can receive acknowledgement and accommodations by checking in with the departments, Alviso said.
She said staff are ready, willing and able to help, and individuals with PTSD have the right to preferential seating and other accommodations.
According to ptsd.va.gov, the Veteran Affairs website, PTSD is caused by exposure to war, terrorism, violence, abuse or disasters. Symptoms include sleeplessness, forgetfulness, loss of trust, changes in beliefs, avoidance behaviors, nervousness, panic attacks, flash backs, nightmares, and needing to have a way to leave a situation.
History freshman Justin Reed served in the Air Force at Langley, Va., and said his transition back to civilian life has not been hard. “I knew exactly where I was going to go and what I was going to do,” he said. “I had family support and friends.”
Reed said when he mentions in conversation that he used to serve in the military, people usually thank him. “I’m not used to it,” he said. “It’s all a little weird. I don’t feel like I should be praised for my service because there are a lot of people who gave more than I did.”
Architecture sophomore John Garcia said he sustained traumatic brain injury from an explosion and lives with PTSD.
He served in the Marine artillery and did two one-year tours in Iraq. He also spent two years in a hospital here as a wounded warrior with daily therapies including memory exercises and speech therapy. He discharged from Brooke Army Medical Center and the military in October 2012 with 100 percent disability.
He said the experience has changed who he is. “I would rather be by myself any day, any time,” he said.
He said professors’ attitudes can give him challenges, such as a literature professor because of how he raised his voice at students and would not let Garcia sit in the back of the class. It made him so uncomfortable, he dropped the class.
Another veteran, photography sophomore Steven C. Price Sr. said, “The transition to what we call the real world was quite brutal.”
Price served more than nine years in the Army and became sergeant prior to his discharge in 1988.
He still appreciates the camaraderie and brotherhood, the mutual understanding of each other in the service.
He said transition is different for disabled vets and those for whom the military furnished benefits such as travel, education and health care and did not take a physical or mental toll.
He said the hardest thing is adjusting to friends and family.
“The closest people to you are the ones who don’t understand and want you to get back to normal,” he said.
“By telling them what I saw and did, they will think I am (expletive) crazy.”
In the long run, he said, “I remain silent. If I tell them, they think I’m (expletive) up. If I don’t tell them, then they think I’m (expletive) up because I won’t say anything.”
Price described a recent brief encounter with a young student at Dewey and Belknap.
Price said he was standing out there smoking. For the first time in all the years he has attended this college off and on, a young student walked up to him and said, “Thank you for your service, sir.”
He said, “I was shocked. I walked away and cried. He broke the silence for me. He acknowledged the burden of my service.”
His eyes got wet again telling the story over coffee on the second floor of Moody Learning Center on Nov. 5.
As to the one thing he wants people to know, he said, “Talk to me. Tell me thank you. Maybe I’ll reach a place where I can think what I did was OK.”