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Vulnerable Veterans: SVO Hosts Disability Panel

In 2006, Michael Lucas received his degree after years of struggling. He first started college in September of 1972.


“Over the years, I’ve been in thirteen different colleges,” Lucas said. “It’s a long story because it has to do with PTSD symptomology.”


Lucas, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam era, is now a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
On Oct. 15, the Student Veteran Organization hosted “Invisible Wounds,” a panel about student veterans who struggle with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). The panelists, all veterans, opened up about their struggles with TBI and PTS and how those conditions complicate academic life.


“The biggest place where I was affected [by TBI] was in my ability to form words and my concentration levels,” said panelist Virginia Sweetser, a former student veteran and current sexual assault counselor.


“When you’re going to class and your professor tells you to be prepared to spend 2-3 hours on a topic for an examination, that really equates to 6-9 hours,” said panelist Victor Ziliani, a retired Marine Corps Master Seargent and UMKC senior.


The panel also discussed strategies on how to deal with neurological problems while in school.


“There’s a lot of adaptive equipment and organizations available to folks,” Sweetser said. Sweetser mentioned Student Disability Services, who provided her with a note-taker so she could focus on her class lectures.


She also brought up community services available to veterans.


“Access to those things is huge. But people can’t access them if they don’t know about them. I would encourage everyone in this room that is in a helping profession to learn about those different pieces that are out there.”


Other strategies included letting the professor know about one’s disability and general advice like sitting closer to the front of the classroom for better focus.


While the panel was concerned with TBI and PTS in veterans, it acknowledged that trauma can happen to anyone.


“I know that we’re here for veterans and [TBI] is labelled ‘the new illness for combat,’ but for the general population, it comes from falls, motorcycle or car accidents,” said panelist James Gibson, a Vietnam-era Army veteran and Veteran Services Manager at the Wichita VA Center. “TBI has been around, it’s not anything new. People have been knocking each other in the head for millennia.”


The panel also brought up using cultural awareness to make a classroom “veteran friendly.” This included professors examining their bias when teaching veterans.


“We honor and respect the Mexican community, the Cuban community, and the African American Community,” panelist and former UMKC student Dan Shea, a U.S. Army veteran, said. “Well, there’s a veteran community, and the veteran community has its own culture, and its own richness. So learning about their culture would be very helpful,” Shea said, emphasizing cultural competency.


Jon Sabala, the Veteran Services Director of the Missouri Department of Health, moderated the panel. Sabala is a retired Army Infantryman with 22 years, including deployments in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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