“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
On November 6, Excelsior College’s Center for Military Education hosted a “Veterans Day” reception on campus to recognize the sacrifices of service members, veterans, and their families.
Dr. Susan Vitti, Licensed Clinical Psychologist for the Veterans Administration, offered the keynote address. In her presentation, “The Costs of War: How I Learned to Step into the Hurt Locker,” she discussed the challenges of working with veterans and what the experiences have taught her about the “legacy of war” and the impact of sending the young men and women into combat.
The numbers are staggering. America has sent 45 million people into combat in the country’s 236 year history with more than 1.5 million wounded and nearly 1.2 million never coming home.
For those whom are able to return to society – and currently there are 23 million veterans living in the U.S. – Dr. Vitti offered insight into both the psychological and emotional consequences of deployment as well as the often unseen impacts on broader society.
“It’s not just the military personal (that is impacted), but the family they come home to,” said Dr. Vitti.
She provided advice to those whom work with veterans. The “hurt locker” is defined as a period of immense emotional pain, she says. It is the responsibility of the provider to understand that the emotional costs of this type of pain, though not the pain itself.
“You have to be aware of your own vulnerabilities…” said Dr. Vitti, “and recognize you cannot understand the veteran’s lived experience, you haven’t had it.” Instead, be curious, humble, and honest and providing them with the chance to voice their questions and concerns – something they lacked while in service.
“You may not understand what it’s like to live in a combat zone…but you do understand, as we all do, pain, fear, loss, grief, shame and the myriad of other emotions we’re lucky enough to feel as human beings.”
Excelsior College President John Ebersole, a veteran himself, offered the opening remarks, reflecting on the sacrifices made not just by those who serve abroad, but the loved ones anxiously awaiting their return. Dr. Barbara Pieper, associate dean, School of Nursing, provided an overview of the Federal grant assisting veterans in achieving a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Dr. Pat Klimkewicz, a commander of the Navy Nurse Corp, explained role as the new faculty mentor in the program.
[Want more? Read President Ebersole’s piece “On Becoming a Veteran” on the Huffington Post]
As part of the event, Excelsior, home to more than 4,000 currently enrolled veteran students and regularly recognized as a “Best for Vets” institution, coordinated a “thank you card” campaign for the Wounded Warrior Foundation.
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