BTC hosts open forum for veterans

The call for help for veterans attending Blackhawk Technical College was answered on November 11, when BTC hosted a Veterans Day open forum at the Central Campus in Janesville.

“We want our veterans experience to be a good one,’’ said Dr. Thomas Eckert, BTC’s president who also is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “We care about veterans, and as long as I am here, you can count on it.’’

Blackhawk has made significant strides in the past year to address veterans’ issues, perhaps the most important of which was adding four new staff members to help guide veterans through the educational process. Staff members dealing with veterans were introduced prior to the panel discussion. 

Two BTC staffers, Erin Brower and Cindy Alfano, participated at the event by coordinating a Boots on the Ground table.  Boots on the Ground is a non-profit humanitarian organization that provides free medical care, clean water, and other necessities required to sustain life to those who lack these essentials.   Ms. Brower provided a pair of her husband’s combat boots to collect donations for BTC veteran’s scholarship programs.

Approximately 150 veterans attend Blackhawk, according to Andrew Nesbitt, president of the BTC Veterans Club, the group that organized the event.  While the college continues to
make efforts 
toward improving veteran support, it was clear during a 45-minute panel discussion that it often is up to the veterans to take hold of their situations and seek out the help and assistance they may need.

“When we come home, it can be very difficult to get back into the swing of things,’’ said one of the panelists, Megan Weinke.

“Vets need to be made aware of the services for them," said Taji Muhammad. “It can get very complicated about the benefits.’’

One issue is as simple as to whether the veteran is coming off active duty or was in the reserves. Panelists agreed that those coming off active duty have an easier journey through the maze of benefit applications.

Another is whether or not the veteran student is dealing with other physical and psychological issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“A lot of vets keep it bottled up inside,’’ said Charles Dienberg, a veteran of the Vietnam War who often works with veterans in the Janesville area. “Sometimes it’s hard to get it out of them because they want to keep it inside.’’

Dr. Eckert noted that is especially true of the current generation of veterans, many of whom have seen multiple tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. He pointed out that in the past, veterans often knew the beginning and the end of their combat duties. That is no longer the case.

Eventually, it will be up to the veteran with the assistance of BTC staff to harness the benefit information. “It falls to us,’’ said Nicholas Maynard, “but sometimes I think we may be a little bit hesitant.

“But we want to be a part of school like everybody else, even if we’ve done something different.’’

In addition to support staff, Blackhawk offers a variety of services for veterans such as:

* Explanation of veterans services at BTC http://www.blackhawk.edu/FinancialAid/VeteranPrograms.aspx.

* Veterans Club Advisor, Doug Tabbutt who can be reached via email at dtabbutt@blackhawk.edu.

* Scholarship opportunities 
http://www.blackhawk.edu/Alumni/BTCFoundation/ScholarshipOpportunities.aspx

Some veteran resources available outside of the BTC campus include:

* For veterans services in Wisconsin counties, check with http://www.wicvso.org/.

* While many veterans are aware of the services provided by the Veterans Administration, this website --  https://www.myhealth.va.gov/index.html -- is a direct way for a veteran to get a handle on his or her healthcare management.

* Veteran housing   
http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/hcv/vash.

* Veteran scholarship information www.legion.org/scholarships;   http://www.dav.org/?s=scholarships;     www.vfw.org/community/programs.