The battle back home - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Returning veterans with different battle back home


University of Iowa students David Bein and Adam Connell have lofty goals after graduation.

"I want to be a mechanical engineer.  Hopefully designing things," Bein said.

"It is my first semester at the College of Nursing.  I'm loving every minute of it," Connell said.

But these two face unique challenges in their quest for their degrees because they are also veterans of the U.S. military.

"I kind of struggle with being around 18-year-old kids again," Bein said. "We're so far apart in our lives."

"I was used to being in small groups of guys where you know everybody," Connell said. "Coming here, I'm in these huge lecture halls with 500 people where I don't know everybody."

In spite of the obstacles, Bein and Connell say they are doing well.

After five year stints in the Marine Corps and Navy, the two are using the GI bill to pay for their education.  Both say the transition has been fairly smooth, but for many other veterans, the changes after returning home can be overwhelming.

"While you were deployed, being really on edge and always ready to go really served you well. It was really adaptive. To come home, it's not helping so much," student Tamara Woods said.

She is getting her doctorate through UI's College of Education's counseling psychology program. Woods works closely with returning veterans and began noticing a troubling trend.

"They came back and for one reason or another they were failing out, not succeeding in school," she said.

A 2009 UI veterans task force report found the graduation rate at the university for veterans to be 15 percent lower than that of non-service men and women.

In response, Woods helped develop a comprehensive class to keep veterans on their career course, providing an understanding of the consequences of combat such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Woods works with Dr. Michael Hall, a neuropsychologist at Iowa City's VA hospital.

Hall says PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are two significant obstacles that can hinder a veteran's transition back to civilian life.

"Certain key parts of the brain change the way they're functioning to help protect an individual, and that doesn't reboot when somebody comes back home again," Hall said.

Hall says brain injury or not, a veteran can struggle to find his or her identity after returning home.

Data shows veterans are struggling to find jobs as well.

A study by the Iowa National Guard estimates that one in four returning veterans are either without a job or under-employed.

While the statistics are daunting, many organizations are trying to help.

The key, Hall says, is bringing these resources together and taking a holistic approach.

"What we're leaning towards is the need to move to a different rehabilitative model. One that encompasses the whole individual and the family, both mental health functioning, physical functioning, and cognitive functioning," Hall said.

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