Bernard Luskin, Ed.D, LMFT
Ventura County Community Colleges
Serving the psychological needs of our nation’s 22.5 million veterans is a major challenge and obligation for us all. I have come to realize that “Media Psychology” is central in fostering communication, understanding, and support for veterans needs and opportunities. With 1.8 million veterans, California has the largest veteran population in the nation so I will use California as my example in this article. Assistance with emotional needs is important in helping our veterans make a successful transition to civilian and community life. This spring in California, led by Vice Chancellor Pam Walker of the California Community Colleges, a very successful Veterans Summit was held in Sacramento. Dr. Vito Imbasciani, a physician and California’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and many other key leaders headlined the impressive Veterans Summit program. Trustee Larry Kennedy and CEO Jannett Jackson, Co-Chairs of the Veterans Caucus of the Community College League of California, actively participated along with the hundreds of representatives of California Community Colleges. Many participants were coordinators of Veterans Resource Centers located on college campuses. The master of ceremonies of the Veteran’s Summit was Dr. Julie Adams, Executive Director of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. During the program, Marine Corporal Mike Strahle, a survivor, painfully explained the Eyes of Freedom traveling display paintings visually telling the story of the company of soldiers, all of whom were killed, except for him.
Eight emotionally engaging paintings in the Eyes of Freedom exhibit are now traveling the country. While looking at the paintings, I was captivated and touched by the penetrating look in the piercing eyes, the psychology of boots and the carefully replicated facial expressions of the 18 and 19 year old marines who were killed in battle in Iraq. I kept thinking that each should be a student at one of our colleges, but they were killed. This media psychology of the Eyes of Freedom exhibit instantly and dramatically tells the story.
Following the Veteran’s Summit in the state capitol we brought the Eyes of Freedom Paintings to each of our three colleges where I am Chancellor, i.e., Moorpark College, Ventura College, and Oxnard College. The experience was always the same. The display’s psychological implications made it easier to understand the nature of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD manifests when a person has experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. Many other manifestations and the onset can occur months after the stressor. Several persistent symptoms are difficulty in falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, exaggerated startle response, and more. PTSD is only one of the life altering stressors returning veterans may experience. The search for identity, a career, a relationship, or personality disturbance, floating anxiety, and worry are among symptoms that can occur. My purpose here is not to fully explain PTSD or other needs, but simply to highlight specific challenges many returning veterans face.
We are told that 70% of returning veterans who go to college on the G.I. Bill start in community colleges. For this reason, the Veteran’s Caucus of the California Community College has been launched. About 50% of the 113 California Community Colleges are now members and new colleges are joining every day. The Caucus’s goal is to have all 113 community colleges and 72 community college districts become members to create a solid information network to serve the needs of our returning veterans. Additionally, contact has now been made in Washington, DC, with President Walter Bumpus of the American Association of Community Colleges, President Noah Brown of the Association of Community College Trustees, and members of the staff of the House and Senate Committees on Veteran’s Affairs with the suggestion that a national network of veterans’ centers come into being.
There is legislation in the works to support veterans centers and the other goals of the many Veterans’ Serving Organizations. It is important to recognize that psychologists are important members of the service groups that can work with college Veterans Resource Centers in meeting the needs I have described. Media psychologists are a unique and important specialty group that can use their skills to both help the messages get across and to develop specialized media programs, including online podcasts and webinars that can help others understand the importance and needs of our veterans. This brief article describes a beginning of our efforts to serve the needs of our veterans and highlights the opportunity for media psychologists to be of service. Each media psychologist can help use his or her skills and knowledge to write “the rest of the story.”