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Panel discusses the struggles of veterans at SMC

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Saint Mary’s hosted a panel on Tuesday night titled, “The Battle After the War: Veterans in Their Lives and Struggles,” to discuss veteran’s issues including PTSD, mental health, homelessness, employment, caregivers, services and policies.

The event — which was organized by students in the Social Work 236 Human Behavior and Social Environment II class — included panelists such as South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, who took a leave of absence to serve in Afghanistan in 2014; U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski, who is known for her services in the House Armed Series, Veteran’s Affairs and Agriculture Committees and Chairs the Nutrition Subcommittee; and Dr. Kent Laudeman, who served in the U.S. Army since 1968 and is currently as a retired Lieutenant Colonel.

Despite the speakers’ variety of perspectives and personal experiences of working with veterans, they all advocated making a difference by working as a community first.

“Regard veterans not as liabilities but assets. This will help more veterans to find a place in the community,” said Buttigieg. “We can do right by everybody who serves by welcoming them into the community more than just saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’”

Laudeman currently serves as the Director of the Robert L. Miller Sr. Veterans Center, which is connected to the South Bend Center for the Homeless. The temporary housing hosts veterans in need of help for two years without having to pay a cent.

“The goal of the facility is to get them back on their feet with shelter, food, a warm shoulder and a warm shower,” Laudeman said.

Laudeman said his personal experience from fighting in Vietnam for a year inspired him to begin working with veterans.

“There are some experiences that I don’t want to remember, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in my life,” said Laudeman. “I’ve grown.”

Walorski went on to discuss the problems that veterans face after coming home from war. Twenty-two American veterans commit suicide per day, she said, and more than half of the suicides are due to sexual assault.

“There are tens of thousands of veterans today that have suffered sexual trauma that have never been reported,” said Walorski. “The greatest catastrophe is the issue of suicide.”

Laudeman agreed and said that another major issue of homecoming troops is drug and alcohol abuse. Most cases are the result of PTSD, of which one in every five soldiers is a victim because they are trying to numb the pain of their memories, said Laudemand.

“There are mountains facing our veterans when they come home,” said Walorski. “I have such a profound respect for the American Reserves.”

Buttigieg said although every veteran’s return home is different, they are all difficult. The South Bend mayor said civilians should set aside common assumptions that they have.

“You come home, and you come to this radical change,” said Buttigieg. “There’s no question there are heroes — the things they did with no regard for their life or safety. In our rush to be complementary, we’ve created the T-ball effect, where everybody gets hit [with gratitude] — but not everyone comes back feeling like a hero. Not everyone is damaged either; most veterans don’t regard themselves as victims. Everyone has a very different experience.”

Walorski said that whatever the condition the soldiers are in when they come home, they need help from civilians to advocate for them so that they can get as little or as much help as they need.

“We have a half a million veterans and their families in our state [Indiana],” said Walorski. “It’s the greatest reward I’ve ever had to sit across from a veteran.

“We want to do them right for the sake of right.”

All three panelists said they were frustrated about what the government is doing to help veterans on a national level.

“We are passionate about veterans because we are outraged,” said Walorski. “I think there’s a way that Saint Mary’s can rise up and be a part of a national model in a way that people have never seen.”

Walorski said she wants to implement a new national program that more veterans could have advocates to get the help they need.

“I think it would be incredible if we could start a national model through Saint Mary’s students,” said Walorski. “We could get social-work students at Saint Mary’s to be an advocate for so many of our veterans across the country.”

Freshman Anna Riddle said she found Walorski’s idea appealing and inspiring.

“I think it would be a good idea if we get Saint Mary’s involved in the National Program,” Riddle said. “I think it would show that it doesn’t just have to be the government providing aid. People have the power to provide aid.”

Sophomore Abbie Spica said she was concerned about peers who were just entering the military.

“Personally, I have community members I know enlisting, and they have concerns about problems coming back, I like the idea of first focusing on community involvement,” Spica said.

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