Hoyer talks veterans’ issues at CSM roundtable
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.”
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.