Hoyer talks vet­er­ans’ is­sues at CSM roundtable

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twitter: @Tif­fIndyNews

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (DMd., 5th) has been a sta­ple in as­sist­ing Mary­land vet­er­ans with fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits, home own­er­ship and stu­dent ben­e­fits.

On July 21, Hoyer vis­ited the Vet­er­ans Lounge at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s La Plata cam­pus to par­tic­i­pate in a roundtable with CSM Pres­i­dent Bradley Got­tfried, stu­dent vet­er­ans and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from stu­dent vet­eran or­ga­ni­za­tions. To­gether they dis­cussed ways to im­prove stu­dent vet­eran sup­port at the col­lege and in the com­mu­nity.

“I’m very im­pressed with the new vet­er­ans’ lounge here on cam­pus,” Hoyer said. “It rep­re­sents the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s on­go­ing com­mit­ment to vet­er­ans on cam­pus and mak­ing sure they have ac­cess to re­sources that help them in their tran­si­tion and their aca­demics. I thank Dr. Got­tfried, stu­dent vet­er­ans and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from stu­dent vet­eran or­ga­ni­za­tions for join­ing me to dis­cuss ad­di­tional ac­tions I can take in Congress to help Mary­land vet­er­ans nav­i­gate the challenges of rein­te­gra­tion and life af­ter sep­a­ra­tion from ser­vice.”

This was Hoyer’s first visit to the vet­er­ans’ lounge since it opened in Novem­ber 2015. Bill Buff­in­g­ton, vice pres­i­dent of the CSM Vet­er­ans Or­ga­ni­za­tion, and Bet­tie Phillips-Jack­son, a CSM Vet­er­ans Or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive, helped cre­ate the lounge. It pro­vides stu­dent vet­er­ans with a dedicated space on cam­pus where they can find aca­demic re­sources and vet­eran-spe­cific sup­port.

“We re­al­ized that our vet­er­ans needed a spe­cial place,” Got­tfried said. “This used to be a small class­room so we de­voted it to our stu­dent vet­er­ans. They have taken it and have used it well.”

Ac­cord­ing to CSM, the col­lege had 218 stu­dents this past aca­demic year who iden­ti­fied as a mil­i­tary de­pen­dent or a trans­fer of en­ti­tle­ment (spouse or child). In the same year, 463 stu­dents iden­ti­fied as mil­i­tary vet­er­ans and 38 were still on ac­tive duty.

Both Buff­in­g­ton and Phillps-Jack­son con­veyed to Hoyer the var­i­ous ma­jor is­sues with the vet­eran process, how the col­lege has han­dled vet­er­ans with post trau­matic stress disor­der (PTSD) be­ing in the class­room and ways they plan to ex­pand the vet­er­ans’ lounge.

“We want our vet­er­ans to stay con­nected while on and off cam­pus, and this or­ga­ni­za­tion is re­ally be­com­ing a force in the com­mu­nity,” Buff­in­g­ton said. “We are also proud to an­nounce that with the help and the sup­port from the col­lege and Stu­dent Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica, we just re­ceived a grant from the Home De­pot Foun­da­tion so ev­ery­one is go­ing to see it have a to­tally dif­fer­ent look here in the next year.”

Phillips-Jack­son said they plan to use the grant money to ex­pand the vet­er­ans’ lounge, paint it and make a few other changes.

“I hope that Hoyer’s visit helps others re­al­ize that vet­er­ans make up a vast ma­jor­ity of col­lege cam­puses and un­der­stand our de­sire to be treated fairly,” Phillips-Jack­son said.

Hoyer said he has helped push for re­forms to help end the Vet­eran’s Ad­min­is­tra­tions back­log, re­sources to re­duce the sui­cide rate among vet­er­ans and ad­di­tional hous­ing for home­less vet­er­ans in South­ern Mary­land. He said he plans to con­tinue to fo­cus on ex­pand­ing ac­cess to health care for vet­er­ans in South­ern Mary­land through a new, ADA-com­pli­ant com­mu­nity-based out­pa­tient clinic in Char­lotte Hall and a new CBOC satel­lite site in Lex­ing­ton Park.

Hoyer and the rep­re­sen­ta­tives also dis­cussed many of the stu­dent vet­er­ans’ ca­reer ad­vance­ment is­sues, tran­si­tion is­sues, and ways to im­prove the cam­pus en­vi­ron­ment re­ceiv­ing vet­eran cul­ture. The or­ga­ni­za­tion said that tran­si­tion­ing for vet­er­ans is more dif­fi­cult than peo­ple re­al­ize.

“If it wasn’t for the fac­ulty here at CSM I wouldn’t have made it, be­cause since I was younger I haven’t been good at be­ing in school,” said Zoila Vi­dal, an Army vet­eran and 2016 CSM grad­u­ate. “To me per­son­ally, the vet­er­ans or­ga­ni­za­tion here on cam­pus is like fam­ily. No one un­der­stands a vet­eran like a vet­eran. When I’m done with one of my classes I can just come here to talk about any topic and it’s a good feel­ing. It’s like my sec­ond home.”

Adrian Brown, a CSM stu­dent vet­eran, and his wife April Brown agreed that tran­si­tion­ing has been hard for Adrian since he’s been on med­i­cal leave from the Navy. He wants to learn how to take the skills he learned while serv­ing in the Navy and ap­ply them to a new ca­reer field.

“I push him ev­ery day to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion and con­tinue ap­ply­ing him­self with his skills,” April said. “I am his back­bone and I’m very com­pas­sion­ate about the is­sues that deal with our vet­er­ans.”

April and Adrian ex­pressed to Hoyer the eco­nomic hard­ships that stu­dent vet­er­ans face and the dif­fi­culty of find­ing doc­tors who know how to take care of pa­tients with PTSD, de­pres­sion or other med­i­cal is­sues. They said the vet­er­ans or­ga­ni­za­tion has been ben­e­fi­cial in as­sist­ing Adrian with his next steps and reach­ing his per­sonal goals.

“The work that this school is do­ing is ab­so­lutely life-chang­ing for so many peo­ple,” Hoyer said. “Just like [Adrian and April Brown], we all need someone to say keep go­ing and keep do­ing bet­ter. This room helps lifts one an­other up and the peo­ple who come to this room un­der­stand each other’s ex­pe­ri­ences.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer; Bill Buff­in­g­ton, vice pres­i­dent of the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s Vet­er­ans Or­ga­ni­za­tion; Michael Hyams, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs act­ing as­sis­tant di­rec­tor out­reach and over­sight; and Zoila Vi­dal, a stu­dent vet­eran, par­tic­i­pate in a roundtable dis­cus­sion July 21 at CSM’s La Plata Cam­pus.

Hoyer

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