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Making service a priority

Every year, more than 200,000 men and women leave the military and re-enter civilian life. These returning heroes often possess advanced skills and good work habits acquired from valuable service-related training and experiences. Despite these advantages, however, many veterans encounter obstacles as they transition to civilian life.

Dean Schwartz, the Veterans Affairs school — certifying official at Southside Virginia Community College, who himself is a wounded veteran, explains that part of the problem stems from the military’s culture. He cites interpersonal communication as just one example. “Military communication is blunt, very blunt, and not following an order can hurt or kill someone.” As a result, Schwartz says veterans sometimes find it difficult to adjust to civilian perceptions about what it means to be polite.

Additionally, veterans who pursue education opportunities are typically non-traditional students, returning to the classroom after a break in schooling. They are likely to be older than many of their classmates and more likely to have families and dependents. For some veterans, injuries have left lasting disabilities.

Schwartz says his military training — dealing with landmines, explosives and machine guns — had little applicability to what he wanted to pursue in civilian life. For him, a successful career meant one devoted to serving others. Schwartz has been able to achieve this goal at SVCC, where he meets with veterans, helps them learn about available GI benefits and guides them as they explore options.

Each of the college’s main campuses hosts a Student Veterans of America chapter. Monica McMillian, past president of the Christanna chapter, served with the Army Reserves for nearly 10 years. She says SVCC provided a veteran-friendly, comfortable environment with one-on-one assistance that helped her remain motivated.

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College. His email address is  al.roberts@southside.edu.