FREEPORT (NEWS CENTER Maine) — Political ads this campaign year are always talking about helping veterans. Much of that involves medical care, but for younger vets, there are a number of other issues that can pose challenges.
A group of what are termed "post-9/11 veterans" met recently with Rep. Chellie Pingree to talk about their issues. Those include dealing with education and related services, through the GI bill; help with the transition to civilian life; and finding ways to translate their military skills to civilian life.
Rodney Mondor, dean of students at the University of Southern Maine, said the school has more than 300 student veterans enrolled. He says USM tries to help with all those issues.
Among the first challenges, says Mondor, is helping the veterans cope with the freedoms of civilian life.
"They’re hard-working, come from very disciplined backgrounds, so that’s a plus for them," Mondor said. "They get the job done, know how to take orders and can figure things out. But when you get into civilian life it’s not always so black and white. So there’s that big area where they have a choice and, for some vets, having the ability to choose from A or B is difficult. They say, ‘tell me which choice and I’ll do it.’"
Mondor says he has been teaching a course since 2009 to help veterans make those adjustments. Marine Corps combat veteran Matt Norris says it was a difficult transition for him.
"Everything is the military is organized, every hour of the day," Norris said. "So when you come out of the military, you have to manage your own time, organize everything yourself."
Other veterans described challenges getting credit for military experience and training in the civilian world. Jannesa Fabbri, a UMA student who was a Marine sergeant, says her experience didn’t help when she went looking for a civilian job.
"I had all this leadership experience and it wasn’t enough to be management but too much to do regular jobs," Fabbri told NEWS CENTER Maine.
Mondor says employers need to become educated about what veterans have to offer. Norris says it sometimes is a matter of how they describe their skills.
Fabbri says she thinks government could help.
"Veterans of this generation, they need more opportunity," Fabbri said, "and I think the government should find a way to translate those skills we got in service to civilian life so it's easier and more maintainable."
Those vets say even some of the basic education programs could use some tweaking. Mary Swanson, also a Marine veteran, says college can be a challenge.
"For a lot of veterans, there’s hiccups along the way, whether that’s housing, or just being able to complete degrees because there aren’t enough benefits."
Swanson and USM officials say veterans can face problems in college because the GI bill only provides education and housing benefits for 36 months, while it typically takes longer to get through a four-year college.
Mondor of USM said that campus and many others have veteran offices to help the student vets figure out how to balance time, education needs and GI bill benefits.