Representatives of federal, state and local organizations will gather at UNC Charlotte later this month for a half-day conference aimed at helping veterans transition to civilian life.
UNC Charlotte’s College of Health and Human Services in 2013 established a veteran and military health initiative in its inaugural veteran conference called “Boots to Books.” The half-day conference Feb. 24 will feature a panel discussion, a vendor fair and opportunities for audience interaction.
Christine Elnitsky, a registered nurse and associate professor of nursing at UNC Charlotte, designed the conference.
“The event is for students, faculty and staff, service providers and members of the general public to share information on military culture and coordination of health-care services to meet the needs of veterans returning from active military service and to support their success at UNC Charlotte and their transition to civilian life,” Elnitsky said.
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In general, Elnitsky said, veterans can experience hardships that range from financial struggles and loss of social support to strain on their relationships, unstable housing, legal issues and health issues.
“Appropriate screening methods and effective treatments are needed, and a RAND (Corporation) study suggests community providers across the nation are not prepared to meet the needs of returning military veterans,” Elnitsky said.
“Although provider training in Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs may enhance services in those systems, military veterans seeking services outside those systems may not access providers who know how to appropriately assess and treat deployment-related issues.”
North Carolina is home to nearly 800,000 veterans and the third-largest active military force in the nation with nearly 120,000 active-duty personnel and 12,000 members of the North Carolina National Guard, according to the Govenor’s Working Group on Veterans, Service members.
The Mecklenburg County area has an estimated population of over 57,000 veterans, which is the second largest veteran population in the state.
Keynote speaker Marianne Mathewson Chapman – an advanced registered nurse practitioner, retired major general for the Army National Guard and a former deputy surgeon general in the Army National Guard – will address military culture, health needs and holistic services.
“This is not the veterans problem but society’s problem,” Chapman said. “We in America sent them to war to protect our freedom, and we’re responsible for their optimal transition home to the ‘new normal.’”
Paul Passaro, 66, is the acting state director for Concerned Veterans for America. The 22-year Army veteran plans to attend to learn more about services that prepare new veterans and families for civilian life.
“Think about this,” Passaro said. “The training and education that service men and women receive to prepare them for their military jobs – sometimes years of training for combat roles – is vital to their success … but the Department of Defense and military branches of service just provide short-term and nonspecific training that is severely inadequate in preparing them for civilian life.”
And, depending upon their role in combat, the number of combat tours, the total tenure of their service, Passaro said, a veterans transition back to civilian life presents a multitude of unknowns.
While the city of Charlotte and county services have organized well in the past several years, Passaro said, veterans’ issues are not homogenous.
“Vietnam-era veterans may have issues and problems that are not related directly to their military service but perhaps to job loss, divorce, alcoholism,” Passaro said. “New veterans may simply need a guide to services, schools for their children, job interviews or continued education. … So not all veterans have the same needs.
“What is missing is a more concerted and continuous commitment from employers at the executive level to educate and require their HR staff to make every effort to recognize military skills and their relation or translation to civilian jobs.”