Wednesday, November 11 is Veterans Day. It is a chance to metaphorically, and perhaps literally, salute those who have given their time, their livelihoods, and maybe even their lives to serve our national interest in the United States, domestically or abroad. Since the end of the draft and the rise of the volunteer army, we civilians often keep our service members and veterans at a bit of an arms’ length distance. They remind us of global conflicts that seem far away and perhaps call to mind uncomfortable truths about human nature and ourselves.
What is the net affect of this distance? It’s tough to say with 100% certainty, but it’s worth pointing out that the rate of veteran suicide is approximately 1.5 times higher than non-veterans. It’s a sobering and saddening statistic; it should make you angry too. The prevailing notion in the U.S. is that we take care of our own, but I have to ask myself at least whether that’s true.
However, there are folks who are doing their part, many of them veterans themselves. Here at Coastline College, we have the distinct honor of serving many veterans and active duty service members through our distance learning and in-person programs. Military Times ranked Coastline 5th in Online and Nontraditional schooling in 2020, after being similarly ranked in 2019. Many dedicated people have worked to make that continued success happen, but I’d like to highlight two of whom for this blog: Michael Scott and Tom Boscamp.
Michael is the Director of Adult Education at Coastline and “served 20 years in the military, a combination of active duty Army, Army National Guard, and the Reserves” working as a military police officer across the globe; Tom is Coastline’s Veterans Services Coordinator and a veteran of the “US Army, Air Defense Artillery.” Because they have wide-reaching positions at Coastline and because they are veterans, Michael and Tom are able to understand how to educationally serve those who have served our nation.
Michael’s original position at Coastline was as “Director of Strategy and Logistics for our Military Department,” a role which allowed him the opportunity to witness, and even officiate, the graduating ceremonies for some military personnel. Says Michael, “I love that Coastline focuses on those populations that need us most,” including those who are incarcerated, folks struggling with citizenship or who come disadvantaged backgrounds, and our nation’s veterans. In other words, “helping those that need that extra helping hand.”
My biggest concern when I was in college was how late was too late to turn in an assignment. But student veterans have larger scale worries. “Reconnecting with the civilian world,” says Tom, is one of the biggest upfront challenges facing veterans because there are no longer rules about chain-of-command. “I’ve had people say ‘you mean I can just ask to speak to someone in charge?’” continues Tom. Coastline takes a personalized approach to serving veterans, which appealed to Tom.
“I’ll send [vets] to Paolo, who runs our Career Services, and he’ll sit them down,” and together, the veteran and Paolo can figure out what careers look enticing, interesting, or worthwhile and what the logical educational steps would be. It’s a more individualized type of service that bears in mind the distinct, and often circuitous, routes we all, including veterans, take to find success and fulfillment.
Michael pointed out that Coastline has “boots on ground, to use the military term, meaning we have physical people in our Veterans Resource Centers that are also veterans that can relate to our veterans students and their families.” This is another personalized type of service that recognizes the particular language of the military, and even the unique jargons of each branch.
Another issue facing student veterans is the availability or affordability of technology, most of which is needed to attend classes or handle coursework. Tom mentioned that Coastline was the first college to partner with Heroes Deserve Help, a nonprofit that refurbishes computers and other necessary tech for student veterans.
“I had student veterans trying to do essays on their phone, because they didn’t have a laptop,” says Tom and the partnership between Coastline’s Veterans Resource Centers and Heroes Deserve Help solved that issue, providing “over 2,000 laptops, printers, and monitors” in just four years.
“We’re trying to focus on setting student veterans up for success,” says Tom. “I always tell student veterans when I’m talking to them: ‘you focus on your classes. All the other peripheral stuff, you let us take care of that so you can focus on your classes.’ Because ultimately that’s how they’re going to be successful.”
Tom himself says “everything rises and falls on leadership” when referring to his time serving in Korea’s DMZ at Camp Stanton, and the same can be said of all institutions, including academic ones. Michael talked specifically about Tom’s leadership of Veterans Resources, and his role guiding individual veterans as well as championing the rights veterans have access to overall.
At the start of the pandemic, Tom was creating online forms and spreadsheets, texting and calling student veterans across the Coastline community and beyond to confirm their health, wellness, and overall status in this increasingly challenging time. The lack of camaraderie and companionship is what hit veterans the hardest, says Tom. Veterans’ loneliness and need to connect with other veterans makes perfect sense.
Connecting with other people is the kind of activity and resource we all need, and for veterans it’s about engaging with those who have similar experiences and thought processes, who have gone through the training, the chain-of-command, and have participated in those community spaces. “We’re used to dealing with a lot,” finishes Tom. “But at some point we need help.” And that’s what Coastline programs and Veterans Resource Centers aims to do, and what we can all do this Veterans Day.