October 24 | by Cynthya Walker
What are some words you associate with these terms? Warrior? Soldier? Fight, deployment, uniform, gun….
Homelessness? Suicide? PTSD?
Civilians often think of military veterans as tough men and women who dedicated a chunk of their lives training and defending the United States of America. While this is true, it’s not the whole truth.
For Diversity Week at UCF, our United Way Campaign Team hosted an expert panel to discuss resources and challenges for veterans in our community. The four panelists were:
- Angeline Bushy, Professor, Bert Fish Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Nursing, University of Central Florida
- Lisa Gamer, UCF Student Veteran
- Lisa Martel, Women Veteran Program Manager, Orlando VA Medical Center
- Paul H. Viau, Jr. Ed.D., Director of Veteran’s Academic Resource Center, University of Central Florida
Panelists shared their thoughts on veteran suicide rates, homelessness and the struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Priscilla Kalagian, Director of Mission United at the Heart of Florida United Way, served as the moderator for the event.
Kalagian began the event by recognizing the veteran suicide awareness movement on social media. People are posting videos of themselves doing 22 push-ups to create awareness for the 22 veteran suicides that happen daily. Kalagian stated that researched shows there are actually 20 veteran suicides daily and it usually happens to those who are over 50 years old. In order to support the prevention of suicide, Garner, who is a UCF student veteran, suggested partnering with another veteran.
Veterans who have an accountability partner have someone who understands their background and provides the necessary resources to guide them through their hardships. Martel, who is the Women Veteran Program Manager at the Orlando VA Medical Center (Orlando VAMC), shared the same thoughts with Garner. She says that veterans should trust other veterans, and to seek out a Peer Support Team to connect with people who are juggling similar situations.
One topic that Kalagian led that opened up the room was the reality of homeless veterans. The media portrays homeless veterans as older, single males with mental illnesses. However, young veterans, female veterans, and even veterans with young children are susceptible to homelessness as well. Martel recognizes the programs that are available for families and single veterans through Orlando VAMC.
“The VA has made veteran homelessness a top priority,” said Martel.
Garner shared a personal story of her husband’s transition to the unfamiliar routine of civilian life during the first year of his retirement.
“It takes a toll on you,” said Garner. She described how she witnessed her husband teach himself to dress in civilian clothes all over again because he spent the last 20 years of his life in military attire.
Not only do veterans find difficulty in adjusting back to civilian life, but often times they find themselves suffering from PTSD. Stereotypically, veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD are seen as violent individuals. But anyone can get PTSD and it is not limited to only military veterans. Viau, the Director of the Veterans Academic Resource Center at UCF, says this stereotype is a mischaracterization of PTSD and veterans. Any sudden traumatic change can open up the PTSD bottle, even midterms.
“Student veterans get transfer shock and things like midterms can be a trigger for PTSD,” said Viau.
Veterans who suffer from PTSD understand their situation, but more often than not, their families don’t. Bushy, the Bert Fish Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Nursing at UCF, emphasized the role that families play when a loved one has PTSD.
“It’s not only the individual who suffers, it’s a family illness,” said Bushy. She recommended that families attend therapy sessions with their veteran to obtain a better understanding of their situation.
Unfortunately, it’s common for civilians to be unaware of the background of a military veteran. Civilians don’t quite understand the military lifestyle and can cause a divide between the two. In hopes to bridge the gap, Garner suggests that people not make assumptions about veterans.
“We’re not all the same,” said Garner, “we have different experiences. Stay open and stay appreciative.”
Many civilians become curious about war stories and ask veterans to share their experience, however, Viau suggests to keep the curiosity to a minimum.
“Don’t ask inappropriate questions like personal war experiences,” said Viau. “It can be hard for the veteran. Instead of asking, read a book about the experience.” There are many biographies, books, and articles about the military experience from individuals who chose to share their story.
Military veterans are people who decided to dedicate their time to serve our country. From the panelist’s views, it’s vital to understand that the stereotypes are just stereotypes and there is more than what meets the eye.
You can make a difference for veterans in our community and on our campus by supporting Mission United and other programs providing services and support. Visit http://LiveUnited.ucf.edu/give today.
This event was part of UCF’s annual Diversity Week – a celebration of our diverse community and an opportunity to explore topics across the broad range of human identity, experience, and interaction. For more information about the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, visit http://Diversity.ucf.edu.