By Michael Ceron in News
Going from the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan and Iraq to the classroom, veterans are making the transition from boots to books.
One million veterans use GI Bill benefits nationwide, 428 of them here at Clark, according to Tim McPharlin, a veterans’ advocate who works at the Clark College Veterans Resource Center.
Commissioned as an officer of the Army in 1980, Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza has commanded soldiers at every level and witnessed first-hand as soldiers transfer to civilian life.
“Our priority is to ensure that every soldier leaving this base has a career, or a job, or a plan in place for when they go,” Lanza said. “We want to ensure that our soldiers are in the best position possible to become contributing members to whichever community they choose to join.”
Lanza said previous military programs did a good job of helping veterans transition, but the army wanted to do better.
That’s the thinking behind a new program known as the Army Career and Alumni Program, he said.
Lt. Col. Dennis Swanson, the deputy public affairs officer for the unit at Lewis-McChord, said the program is designed to better prepare soldiers through workshops and seminars that cover subjects including resume writing, financial planning and VA benefits.
This process can begin up to a year before a service member plans to exit the military, according to military officials.
Josh Vance, another veterans’ advocate in the Clark office, said veterans, especially those from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sometimes face adversity from people who disagreed with those military maneuvers. “Sadly, they take out their disagreement on the men and women who fought in those wars.”
Vance said in terms of veteran friendliness, Washington ranks in the middle of the 50 states. “Oregon is 49th.”
The advocates said they are focused on fighting the stigma associated with combat-related injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder and brain trauma.
McPharlin said this quarter the resource center will again host seminars for faculty and students to help them recognize early warning signs of possible issues and give them the information necessary to help.
There are two workshops to attend, according to McPharlin. Vet 101 is the first. It covers general topics related to veteran affairs. McPharlin said Vet 201 goes more in-depth on PTSD and TBI, with experts in both fields leading the discussion.
The resource center plans to hold Vet 101 this quarter. McPharlin said he hopes to follow with Vet 201 next quarter, possibly at the Washington State University Vancouver campus.
Vance and the advocates said they are also working to revitalize the Veterans Club here on campus. The club is not only open to veterans, but anyone that wants to help, said Vance.
Vance said that the resource center is also hoping to show documentaries of the war in Afghanistan to help non-veteran students understand the effects of war. One film he mentioned as a possibility was “The Hornet’s Nest.”
“In the end, we want to remove the stigma and help others understand that we are just people,” Vance said. “We just want to be treated with dignity and respect.”