Rashid HasirbafAmerica’s service members are the guardians of our freedom and the forces for hope around the world. America’s military is one of the world’s most diverse organizations thanks to President Harry Truman’s 1946 decree to integrate the armed forces.
United under one flag for 235 years, this nation’s armed services has taken men and women from every small town and large city in America to protect our borders and defend freedom. Working, fighting, building and dying side by side, this multicultural community fights for freedom and defends the weak and oppressed of the world.
What we do for them—or do not do—is both generous and appalling. Last year Congress passed the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a great piece of legislation that replaces the weak and miserly Korea and Vietnam-era veterans programs. Like the great World War II GI Bill, the new plan will help veterans attend college and buy homes.
Yet too many vets fall through the cracks. Unemployment for young San Diego veterans is nearly 30 percent and the same group has America’s highest rate of suicide. Too many mentally scarred and disabled vets live in poverty and isolation. This is an intolerable situation in a country as great as ours.
As World War II veterans are steadily departing this world, younger veterans now represent the legacy of the reintegration of armed services personnel into American society. We largely failed a generation of vets and without some serious soul-searching we are poised to fail again.
Since 2001 more than 6,200 service members are dead from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Most of the men and women who have died are between the ages of 20-24. More than 500 Californians have died and 3,000 have been wounded in service of this country in the last 10 years alone. More than 200,000 homeless veterans are living on the nation’s streets and under the nation’s bridges.
Brace yourself, Southwestern, because a battalion of veterans is headed this way. They will require patience, dedication and understanding. We need to consider their experiences and their needs. A loud cafeteria can be a bloodcurdling experience for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder. Even at the same age, it is difficult for a veteran to relate to someone who has never left home or seen war and death. Atrocities of war follow anyone who has seen its horror.
Many veterans on campus, in classrooms, out in the community and living in our neighborhoods are struggling just to get through the day. Many came back from war with injuries that changed their lives forever and need help finding their way back home.
Wounded service members are wondering how they can live the rest of their lives with having lost limbs, brain injuries and PTSD. SWC has to help them answer those questions with effective programs, proper facilities and trained staff.
With the Post-9/11 GI Bill many of these young service members have a chance to train for a new life, a new career and a new beginning. The campus is filled with veterans young and old, and many more are on their way as the nation withdraws troops and the wounded numbers increase. Tens of thousands are coming back through San Diego bases and many will make a home here. Southwestern is an emerging gateway for veterans transitioning back into the community.
SWC Veteran Affairs and the Student Veteran Organization has made great strides helping veterans on campus and in the community, teaming up with SDSU and other institutions of higher education. SWC is already considered one of America’s best colleges for veterans, thanks to leadership by Jim Jones and his colleagues in the Veterans Center. This college has modeled the creed “No man left behind,” and SWC veterans and volunteers work diligently to create a safe, welcoming and diverse environment for any service member or veteran to learn and find their way back into society. But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. It is a difficult transition coming home after life in the armed services, in peacetime, exponentially more so during times of war.
There is much work to do here and Southwestern has the heart, courage and diversity to tackle the job. Bad economic times cannot be an excuse. Too many of us will be watching.
The editorial board of the Southwestern College Sun strongly endorses the idea of building a dedicated Veterans Center on the corner lot. We need to create a space for veterans to come together, a sanctuary to get away when the normal bustle of the college is too much. Veterans find comfort in other veterans. A veteran walking into a room of other veterans can find an instant connection and comfort. It is a bond that transcends rank, branch of service, tour of duty, peacetime or war.
Specialized counselors can help veterans through the culture shock they face as they transition into a new beginning.
Make Southwestern College a safe haven and a path to a brighter future for every veteran in our community. They have served their country in war. With hope, education and encouragement, they will continue to serve our country in peace.