PLATTSBURGH — After serving in the military for 18 years, Steven Bowman can speak firsthand about the difficulties veterans face when reintegrating into their communities after war.
“When you think about young men and women serving today, they’re a different person when they come back,” said Bowman, who is director of the Clinton County Veterans Service Agency.
Veterans’ experiences change the way they look at life.
Bowman joined the military two weeks after high school, when he was only 17 years old. It was something he had always wanted to do.
“I grew up in a farm,” he said. “I went back about eight years ago and met with old classmates. The only similarity is where we graduated from.”
The life experiences that veterans face are not necessarily negative. In this case, Bowman said, his classmates had a smaller world view than him. They had never left their small town in Iowa.
He, on the other hand, had traveled to multiple countries because of the military. He had been to Japan, Korea, Honduras — and all of this time, without his family.
“We try to tell families that the individual they send away on a bus will not be the same individual coming back,” Bowman said.
Goals and life experiences change when a person is fighting to survive, he said, and these experiences could either broaden or close their outlook on life.
“Many people are much better people, but there are some that become very negative as well,” Bowman said.
For example, people with injuries or disabilities become a compound issue, he said. One can develop a completely different outlook ba
sed on how he or she is cared for and viewed by the rest of the population.
Tracy Guynup, Clinton Community College assistant registrar and veteran’s certifying official, said veterans with disabilities often have difficulty around campus.
Another issue many face is post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“If a student has PTSD, and we do see a fair number of students who do have PTSD, we certainly do take that into consideration when we talk to them about taking classes,” Guynup said.
According to veteransnewsroom.com, a website dedicated to providing veteran news, approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. An additional 320,000 may have experienced a traumatic brain injury during deployment. Bowman said these disabilities cloud the veterans’ issues even more.
“They may not know how to verbalize needs or concerns,” he said.
Stereotypical thoughts, such as “all veterans have post-traumatic stress disorders,” can also impact an employer’s decision to hire a veteran, which is an obstacle in the reintegration process, he said.
Bowman said the national unemployment rate for 18- to 27-year-olds is 11 percent. On the other hand, for veteran males 18 to 24 years old, there is a 29 percent unemployment rate.
While there are many explanations for this, Bowman said some employers could be afraid because veterans do not always know how to correlate to specific jobs.
Bowman said that his job is to help veterans find jobs that will suit them and encourage them to move out of the area if necessary.
Most veterans have jobs in a correction facility or in construction. Bowman said that some may find jobs in medical fields and schools.
Programs are being pushed by the federal government to give companies incentives to hire veterans. There are also programs to help them rewrite their resumes in a non-military tone and remove the military jargon, Bowman said.
David Rabideau, a Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association representative, also helps veterans in the association find jobs. With more than 30 members in the local chapter, he said, the association tries to get veterans into the Veteran Affairs system. The association also holds fundraisers for the Veterans’ Assistance Fund and for veteran families in financial need.
“We’re all veterans that have served in combat,” Rabideau said of the members. “When we see a veteran out there that needs help, we help get them into the VA system, get them appointments, help them with money, help the family out and do escorts for funerals.”
HELP WITH BENEFITS
Bowman also helps enroll veterans in health care and provide them with education and disability benefits through the Veteran Affairs department.
“That’s what our goal is in this office,” he said. “To help them (veterans) access all federal and state benefits to their military service.”
By providing these services to the veterans, Bowman said, he is helping them reintegrate into the community.
“Once we get them into the system, those doors start opening,” he said.
Besides finding jobs, veterans can also reintegrate into their communities through college. Guynup said CCC veterans are generally successful in pursuing their academics. One challenge is that some veteran students have not been in a school setting for a long time.
“In addition to learning academic content, these students have to brush up on computer skills,” he said. “On the whole, our veterans do very well academically.”
Dealing with other students can also be an obstacle for veterans, Guynup said. He said CCC’s general student body works well with the veterans, but it could be more of an uphill battle for vets.
“The main thing about the combat vets is a lot of these guys come back with problems, issues,” Rabideau said. “And they have a lot of problems talking to civilians because they (civilians) don’t know what it’s like to deal with combat.”
Talking to veterans and providing them with counseling is also important, a service that is provided through Veteran Affairs. Rabideau said the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association is also helpful, as veterans get a chance to speak with others they can relate to.
“We do a lot of talking with them, and we open up our lives to them to help them better understand how to cope with society,” he said.
Rabideau said the association provides a lot of mental and moral support because of what the veterans had to go through.
“Most average, everyday people don’t have to witness bodies blowing up or their friends being killed in front of them,” Rabideau said.
In coordination with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Guynup said CCC also has a veterans club. The club joined with the Alumni Association to start a Clinton Community College Veterans Assistance Fund to help vets receive financial aid for school.
Ron Poland, a veteran and also the club’s adviser, said the group is not restricted to only veterans, which allows veterans and general students to build better bonds. The club also helps organize veterans events.
“They’re gaining more experience because they didn’t do any of that stuff in their military experience and they don’t do any of that in their class experience, so they’re gaining it from the club,” Poland said.