By Taylor Klusman

The Razorback Reporter

The civilian disconnect that veterans face after they are hired raises challenges in the workplace, according to a study commissioned by Blue Star Families (BSF), an organization that advocates for veterans.

BSF conducts a yearly survey featuring Military Family Lifestyle results and organizes the information gathered into various public resources on their website, including an executive survey, a comprehensive infographic and a comprehensive report.

In the resulting information, researches at BSF found that out of the 8,390 military interviewees, 79 percent “do not believe military compensation is keeping up with civilian compensation,” and 88 percent “feel general public does not understand sacrifices made by service members and their families.”

The 2016 data displays its most concerning information regarding veterans at the top of page one on the infographic, the charted statistics revealing that military pay and benefits is the most troubling aspect of life for 56 percent of veterans polled.

This top choice was directly followed by change in retirement and benefits, number of military personnel suicides, PTSD and employment.

“The disconnect exists because of what we, as civilians, don’t understand about the military involvement,” Jay Green, Administrator for the AR State Veterans Home of Fayetteville, said. “It’s like a group or club that they all experienced and we didn’t, and so we can’t understand what it was or what it felt like.”

The Service Year Alliance is an organization attempting to make young Americans serving the nation for at least a year a common expectation.

“When veterans engage in a paid service year, we see good results,” EJ Delpero, the Military and Veterans Fellow for the Service Year Alliance, said. “These opportunities provide transitional support from the military because it takes time to adjust to the civilian world, new skills can be acquired, more connections are made, and all of this ultimately boils down to increased career opportunities.”

This organization works to lessen the divide between military and civilians through this adjustment period while simultaneously striving to educate civilians regarding the costs veterans pay for their service.

“Right now, less than 1 percent of our population serves in the military,” General (Ret.) Stan McChrystal, chairman of Service Year Alliance, said. “And, in my view, we need to rethink and create a system where every young American has an opportunity to serve their nation in other ways.”

Under the mental health and wellness section of the survey, 40 percent of active duty participants said they feel that seeking mental health care would harm their career, further establishing the idea that many veterans do not feel able to request help when they need it.

“I think it’s easier to bridge the divide with this age group than it is with younger veterans because they’ve had the time to come to terms with their service, it’s not fresh in their minds like it is for veterans who’ve just recently come back,” Green said.

Multiple companies actively and publically are working to resolve such conflicts and many are discovering successful methods of bridging the divide.

“Taking off the uniform does not necessarily represent that one is done serving their country,” Delpero said. “In other words, with service year programs, veterans are donning a new uniform.”

Unemployed veterans finding jobs as more businesses pledge to hire

By Taylor Klusman

The Razorback Reporter

More than 18,400 of veterans who reside in Arkansas are living in poverty.

According to the Veterans Data Central website, the unemployment rate in 2016 ranged from 1.8 to 7.6 percent, ensuring that Arkansas’s 3.1 percent was relatively low when compared to other states.

“Among the 453,000 unemployed veterans in 2016, 60 percent were age 45 and over, 36 percent were age 25 to 44, and 4 percent were age 18 to 24,” according to information found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

As the numbers come to light, many businesses and companies have begun to offer various promotions and support groups to help find jobs for these veterans.

Blair Cromwell, senior manager-opportunity for Walmart corporate communications, explained the ‘Veterans Welcome Home Commitment’ that Walmart introduced in 2013 and guaranteed the continuation of until 2020.

“Since Memorial Day 2013, we have hired 179,489 veterans and have promoted 24,379 to roles of greater responsibility,” Cromwell said.

Other large corporations have also taken up the initiative of hiring veterans with an intent to reduce the poverty and homelessness that accompanies many with their return to the country after fighting wars abroad.

Starbucks featured a new pledge on their website to hire 15,000 more veterans, as they have already employed more than 10,000 veterans and military spouses since 2013, according to their website.

“Today, Americans know fewer veterans than any other generation,” the large, beginning header on read. The article quoted veteran employees from various Starbucks locations describing their everyday jobs working with civilians.

“In the next 10 years, more than two-thirds of veterans will be over the age of 65,” according to the Veterans Data Central website.

Amazon joined the trend with their announcement in May 2016 to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2021—over two times the number of veterans they employ.

Similarly to Starbucks, Amazon’s employment page of their website highlights the Amazon Warriors, a group of employees that have joined in support of veterans as well as current military personnel.

Angela Seawood Williams, assistant vice chancellor for career services and executive director of the Career Development Center, described the program’s services as providing “career counseling, resume reviews, mock interviews, and job search strategies.”

“Our career advisors have received special training regarding how to assist veterans with converting their military resumes to civilian resumes,” Williams said, “and they are aware of specific veterans’ job search resources.”

The CDC also has a VetSuccess Career counselor on campus specifically to help veteran students who are searching for a job.

Student Veterans, another organization on campus, was put in place to make veterans attending the university feel not as lonely, President of Student Veterans Derek Calhoun said, a veteran himself.

“Experience is very heavy in this job,” Calhoun said. “The culture in the military is very different, and the last president lacked communication with the members.”

Hiring veterans in positions like Calhoun’s can be beneficial to businesses that deal with veteran customers regularly, as sometimes it is easier to relate to someone who has had the same experience as you, Calhoun said.

Identifying veterans on campus and approaching them about joining Student Veterans is another part of Calhoun’s job description, one that would be even more difficult for a civilian president.

“It’s like playing ‘Where’s Waldo,’ but there’s so many Waldos I can’t possibly find them all,” Calhoun said.

More than 200,000 U.S. service members return to civilian life each year, each of whom have a better opportunity of being hired because of these recent pledges, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Report: Women Veterans More Likely to Pursue Higher Education

By Andrea Johnson

The Razorback Reporter

Thirty-four percent of military-affiliated students last year at the UofA were women. Even though men make up the majority of that population, a national report shows that women veterans are more likely than men to pursue and complete a college education.

A 2015 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report showed that 44.3 percent of women veterans enrolled in college compared to 36.5 percent of men. Women also had a higher graduation rate with a bachelor’s (20.7 percent) or advanced degree (13.8 percent). Among men veterans, 15.9 percent earned bachelor’s degrees and 10.7 percent earned advanced degrees.

Women represented about 9.4 percent of veterans in 2015, according to the most recent Women’s Veteran Report.

The higher percent of women veterans enrolling could be attributed to the their being younger than the male veteran population, according to the report. More women veterans fell within the youngest age group of ages 17-24 than men. The median age of female veterans in 2015 was 50 while for men it was 65.

Carrie Mize, a junior at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, served in the Army for four years before settling in Fort Smith in 2008. She worked at a day care center and as a stay-at-home mom until she decided to use her veterans benefits to pursue a college degree in early childhood education, she said.

At age 31, she decided to enroll at UAFS in 2015. Because she did not finish high school, she feared failure at the college level, she said. But her ability to cover all college expenses using her Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and the state-sponsored Academic Challenge Scholarship for non-traditional students motivated her to try.

“It would be silly not to use (benefits),” Mize said. “I had to build up the courage to go back, but I did have the money.”

Finding balance between being a mom of three children, a wife and a college student became her greatest challenge, she said. After a couple semesters and late-night study sessions, she thinks she has figured it out. Her husband commutes to work in Fayetteville, and she credits him for helping her succeed.

The same determination that kept her going in the Army helps her persevere toward graduation, Mize said.

“I’m an overachiever and I’m scared of failure,” she said. “I wasn’t going to fail. I was going to push through it and make it to the end.”

Jovanna Lopez, a freshman at Northwest Arkansas Community College, served four and a half years in the Army before beginning her college education this fall.

As a senior in high school, she did not feel prepared to pursue higher education, she said. She enlisted in November 2011, graduated from Rogers Heritage High School in May 2012 and left for training the following August.

“I was kind of the one who wasn’t expected to do it, so it was kind of fun to do something that wasn’t expected of me,” Lopez said.

On the NWACC campus, Lopez finds it difficult to determine who affiliates with the military, she said.

Clues such as a military patch or American flag on a cap, bag or tattoo helps identify affiliated people, but she does not see many women “going out of their way to do something with the military or show that they were in the military,” Lopez said.

This semester, 409 military-affiliated students enrolled at NWACC – 80 are female – said Dianna Portillo, director of Veteran Resources at NWACC.

Lopez also receives benefits through a Post 9/11 GI Bill that covers her education costs. She tried earning course credit through online classes but decided the classroom environment fit her learning style better, she said.

Katie Rose Martin, a second-year student at the UA School of Law, served in the Army, 2009-2014, while completing her bachelor’s degree through the online American Military University. She completed eight-week courses without breaks and finished a four-year degree program in two years, she said.

While serving in the Army, her undergraduate education costs were covered. As a law student, her costs are covered through Vocational Rehabilitation benefits, she said.

Martin joined the military for education and health benefits and to gain structure in her life, she said. Before she joined, she made poor decisions and lacked direction in life, but her military experiences helped her mature.

Earning her bachelor’s degree while serving in the Army proved to Martin that she could accomplish more than others might expect of her, she said.

“I know from the military that if I focus and have a goal and just keep that in mind – whatever that goal is – I can accomplish it while at the same knowing that I do have limitations,” Martin said.

The UA student population might comprise more military-affiliated female students than reported, but enrolling UA students are not required to designate military affiliation, just as students may choose whether to identify their race or ethnicity, said Erika Gamboa, director of the UA Veterans Resource and Information Center. At the UofA, 1,382 students self-identified as a military-affiliated student last year.

The 2016 UA female student population is 52 percent of the average total population of 26,154, according to enrollment reports. The preliminary enrollment report for fall 2017 showed continued majority-female enrollment at 52 percent.

By 2043, women are projected to make up 16.3 percent of all living Veterans – a projected 2.4 million, according to a VA report. Last year, the population of women Veterans reached 2.05 million, with 21,361 1iving in Arkansas.

UA Bridges the Gap with Veterans

By Veronica Torres
The Razorback Reporter

The more than 1,300 students who have a military affiliation are working with UA officials to ease their college transition through outreach and assistance.
Erika Gamboa, director of the Veterans Resource and Information Center relates service members’ introduction to university life to that of students without military affiliation.
Many students without military affiliation seek help from counselors in high school and some learned through university tours and through their own experience.
Most students affiliated with the military, however, come from active duty, Gamboa said.
Senior James LaRocco came to the university after serving in the Army.
All students experience similar application hurdles, regardless of their military status; figuring out how to pay for school and enrolling in classes, for example.
There are generally two types of military affiliates, active duty and reserve.
Active duty refers to someone who is in the military 24/7 with a normal contract of four years, but some retire, Gamboa said.
LaRocco served on active duty for nine years and was deployed three times.
Students communicate with faculty so as to stay on track with school to not get behind, Gamboa said.
Sometimes professors have good communication sometimes they have not so good communication, Larocco said.
LaRocco is a physical education teacher intern and his professor has been helpful an open line of communication, he said.
In regard to paying for school, the university uses two GI Bills to help students, and the UofA is a yellow ribbon school.
“The Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program (Yellow Ribbon Program) is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows veterans to attend private schools and graduate programs costing more than the state tuition cap,” according to the New GI Bill website. “Under the program, participating colleges and universities must offer a veterans-only scholarship which the VA will then match up to the full cost of tuition and fees.”
Students also are eligible for financial aid from the university. Applicable students are given $1,000 from the university and the VA matches that to lower tuition cost by $2,000, Gamboa said.
The Veterans Resource and Information Center has multiple partnerships across campus and Fayetteville to help students in other ways.
The center works with Counseling and Psychology Services, the Center for Education Access and Veterans Affairs and mental health counselors outside of the university.
They have created different groups since the beginning in 2009, but have a student veterans’ Registered Student Organizations on campus. The RSO has a small turnout but is hoping to grow. The RSO has approximately 150 members with five active members, said senior Derrick Calhoun II, president of the group and a Marine veteran.
“We do have the support, not just from us but from different departments and different students, wanting to help students,” Gamboa said.

Local Homeless Vets could see resource increase

Erin McGuinness

The Razorback Reporter

President Donald Trump proposed to increase funding for Veterans Affairs by more than $7 billion nationally, an addition that might not have an effect on the homeless veteran population in Fayetteville, according to interviews with those who work with providing housing for veterans.

Trump’s agenda “The America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” proposes to increase VA support by 6 percent, or $4.4 billion with an additional $3.5 billion to continue the Veterans Choice Program.

Approximately 60 homeless veterans in Fayetteville do not receive housing services, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, UA sociology professor and Community and Family Institute director.

Two major programs benefit homeless veterans in Fayetteville. Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) provides rapid re-housing for veterans and their families through 7hills Homeless Center. Housing and Urban Development Housing Choice Voucher (HUD/VASH) works through the Fayetteville Housing Authority to provide permanent independent community housing for homeless veterans eligible for VA Health Care.

7hills Homeless Center placed 130 veterans in rapid re-housing during the previous grant cycle, Jessica Andrews, chief executive officer, said.

“Just from the point in time numbers between 2015 and 2017 within northwest Arkansas the percentage of total adults experiencing homelessness that were veterans went up by two percent,” she said. “I mean it’s a very small increase, but that’s still showing us that there is some additional need here.”

If given more money, 7hills would be able to further their outreach and house more veterans through SSVF, she said.

“The SSVF program has been pretty successful nationwide, so we can’t know what the VA will choose to allocate funds to. But it is a very successful proven program,” she said.

The Fayetteville Housing Authority is allocated 125 vouchers to house homeless veterans, Joy Hunnicutt, Section 8 housing specialist, said. The authority was offered more vouchers, she said, but the office will not accept additional vouchers or money.

“The 125 vouchers we have, we always have openings, we never have them completely full, we never have had, so were not going to take any new vouchers at this point in time,” she said.

There are 112 homeless veterans on the books, Hunnicutt said in a previous interview.

The veterans have to be eligible for case management before they enter the VASH program.  Veterans who do not qualify for the program might be a reason not all the vouchers are used, Hunnicutt said.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m ever pointing fingers at the VA because we work very closely with them, but they have to bring us people before we can house them,” she said.

Brian McAnally, Health Care for Homeless Veterans manager differs slightly from the number provided by Hunnicutt. Of the 125 vouchers in Fayetteville, 120 are full, McAnally said. There is a list of 15 people waiting to procure the additional five.

“They (Fayetteville Housing Authority) have told us they don’t want any more vouchers, that is not a decision that the U.S. government makes, so if they don’t want to accept them, they don’t have to accept them,” he said.

President Trump’s budget is just a suggestion, said Heather Neilson, press secretary for Rep. Steve Womack, R. Ark.

While support will increase overall, that does not mean that every VA program with receive more money.

“Our appropriations bill had an increase compared to the number from last year, but just because there is an increase, does not mean that there is an increase for every program under the VA umbrella. That would not be physically sound,” she said.

The fiscal year starts Oct. 1. and it is not official where the money will be allocated to yet, McAnally said. McAnally runs programs throughout northwest Arkansas and Missouri in addition to his work with Fayetteville.

“Nothing is official yet. But it appears that, yes, we will be receiving some additional resources for homeless veterans,” he said.