Veterans event opens dialogue about services

The Military Personnel and Dependent Information event at SPSCC offered veterans, military family, and supporters a chance to talk to representatives from Work Source Veterans Services, the Thurston County Veterans Assistance Fund, and the Veterans Homelessness Prevention Program.

The highlight of the event was the conference with Mark Fischer from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA). Fischer has worked with veterans for over 40 years. He spent most of his career working with soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder, but now works exclusively with the state to help veterans make the tough transition from military to student life.

Members of the college’s Veterans Club attended the conference, along with college President Gerald Pumphrey, head of the SPSCC Veterans office Mary Davis, and campus counselors Colleen Clukey, Yolanda Machado, and Sally Sharbaugh.

A discussion panel answered questions raised by Fischer and opened the room to conversation. One of the biggest topics discussed was the transition from military to civilian life and the further transition from civilian to student life.

According to student and panel member Joseph Webster, SPSCC students are lucky to have the Veterans Club on campus to help ease the transition. Not all veterans feel comfortable joining the club, though. Of the 425 veterans currently enrolled at SPSCC, only about 30 of them are active members of the Veterans Club.

Many of the veterans said they had a hard time making the transition from military to student life, even with resources such as the Veterans Club available. Several veterans said that they felt lost and as if they had no purpose outside of the military.

According to Fischer, it is not uncommon for veterans to become depressed and develop alcohol problems upon returning home. Student Garrett Collins said he has lost more people to suicide and alcohol abuse after leaving the service than he did while actively serving.

One veteran, who did not wish to be named, broke down during the conference when he tried to speak about his own experience making the transition to student life. Like other veterans, he felt as though he lost everything and had no one to talk to. He was not comfortable joining the Veterans Club because of the difficulty he has talking about the things he has seen.

Resources are available for SPSCC students who do not wish to join the Veterans Club. Counselors Colleen Clukey, Yolanda Machado, and Sally Sharbaugh said they are always willing to speak with any student who is struggling.

At least 200 veterans are expected to return for summer quarter. Mary Davis, the head of the Veterans office, does her best to help them all in a timely manner, but she is vastly outnumbered.

The veterans present at the conference praised Davis for her excellent work, but said it would be nice to have more people like her on campus. Davis has a faster paperwork return rate than the Department of Veterans Administration, but she can only process so much paperwork at one time. According to Fischer, the school is eligible for at least three work study helpers to assist Davis, but she simply does not have the space for the extra help or the time to train them.

President Gerald Pumphrey said he hopes the school will have adequate room to accommodate the Veterans office when construction finishes in 2013.

Members of the Veterans Club said they would like to see the school create an informative pamphlet to make the transition to student life easier for veteran-students who are not interested in joining the Veterans Club. Davis, Clukey, Machado and Sharbaugh said they would love to have something like that to pass out at their offices.

According to club advisor Eric Chase, along with providing comradery the club shares important information, such as what benefits are available for veterans, who is eligible for, and how to apply. People at the conference agreed that such information should be readily available for all enrolled veterans.