Veterans reval struggles as students

By Thomas Reilly - Staff Reporter

Veterans at Highline can have issues that might make finding academic success difficult, they said.

Because of their experiences in the military, many veterans are dealing with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and other physical injuries as well.

Highline has approximately 300 veterans attending school. 

While they are not entirely different from other students, they have had the unique life experience of being in the military.

Some veterans said that they have experienced violence in combat over multiple deployments, which can leave them  with both physical and mental scars. 

These injuries can take a lot of time and effort to be able to resume a life approaching normalcy after they separate from the military.

"I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries that have impacted my life in both my family and my work" said Louis Ihrig, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a student at Highline.

 For some veterans, it can be difficult to talk about the experiences with people who haven't served in the military, they said. Other issues that can hinder a veteran's transition into college or civilian life is a sense of not fitting in.

One of the most profound adjustments after the military, many veterans said, is losing the sense of family they had while in. For many veterans, their unit and the military as a whole becomes like a surrogate family.

"The biggest adjustment is the loss of community. I went from being surrounded by my shipmates, on and off duty, to it being just my husband and me," said Lolita Washington, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran.

Another area where veterans can find it difficult to adjust to is the lack of structure that's inherent in civilian life.

To some veterans, having to pay bills and have the finances set aside for them can be difficult, they said. 

When in the military, many veterans didn't have to worry about rent or food money as that was part of their pay. 

In the first six months of getting out of the military, one of the challenges was adapting to paying bills and budgeting correctly after having been used to the structure of the military, said Daniel Sieker, a U.S. Army veteran.

The Veterans Services Office is the main point of contact at Highline for veterans to get assistance with education benefits and help with other issues regarding their academic careers.

Other sources of assistance that are off campus include the Veterans Administration and the Disabled American Veterans. 

"The Veterans Services Office has been helping me with my education benefits and the VA has been helping with my disabilities" said James, a U.S. Army veteran at Highline who did not give his last name.

Many veterans say that even though they have these issues and experiences, they just want to be able to successfully build a new post military life.

"The biggest thing to teachers is that we have an internal struggle that you can't see," said Sylvester Sangalang, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran attending Highline.

  "We are not looking for excuses just an understanding that sometimes, if we don't do an assignment or participate during class, that it's not intentional," he said. "It's just some stuff we're working through." 

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