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Vets Face Challenges At Home As Local Marines Continue Fight In Afghanistan

Audio

Aired 11/12/10

How is our region doing in taking care of the estimated 50,000 recent vets that call San Diego home? We discuss the challenges new veterans face as they begin the transition back to civilian life. Plus, hear an update on the difficult month Camp Pendleton-based Marines have had in Afghanistan.

How is our region doing in taking care of the estimated 50,000 recent vets that call San Diego home? We discuss the challenges new veterans face as they begin the transition back to civilian life. Plus, hear an update on the difficult month Camp Pendleton-based Marines have had in Afghanistan.

Guests

Tony Perry, San Diego Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times.

Teresa Connors, regional news editor for the North County Times.

Scott Lewis, chief executive officer of voiceofsandiego.org.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I sure don't want the program to end without recognizing that Thursday was veterans' day, and there were parades and recognitions and ceremonies and those veterans were honored who served in the U.S. armed forces. In San Diego, there are 235000 veterans, according to a recent report, 26000 recent veterans want help from the VA medical center here. So Tony, in the very short time that we have left, what are you hearing about how recent vets are being served in San Diego?

TONY PERRY: Well, the statistics which suggest higher unemployment among that demographic and their cohorts who did not serve, some anecdotal evident that are finding their way to the street, be careful on that though, I really want to see numbers on that. Some are having trouble. We know that a quarter to a third degree are coming home from Afghanistan or Iraq, with traumatic brain injury or PTSD. And that's gonna be with us for a while. I think those initial problems may fade. Of but we're still seeing problems pop up among the Vietnam veteran population. The agent orange situation or psychological problems. When a man or woman signs up to wear a uniform, he is essentially signing a blank check, telling the government, do with me as you want, including send me to my death to defend the various foreign policies. All right. I think the flip side to that is we have a commitment to them once they come home. How to fill that commitment? I think the VA, after the great scandal in Washington has gotten better. The naval center in San Diego is a good example of great medical care. Military is doing what they can. Maybe they should do more. The state is trying to help veterans find jobs but there's a lot more work. And you're gonna be at this a long time.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. So Teresa, you heard what Tony said. Wars are not going to end, obviously, not in our lifetime anyway. And new ones begin. What kind of a challenge does this present for the community and if are the families when you do have veterans returning home, some in pretty bad condition.

TERESA CONNORS: It presents a big challenge. But I think the community is rallying. I was reading the other day about a number of problems. Palmar College providing special programs and special rooms for vets to help them make that transition into academics. A woman who runs a horse ranch in Rancho Santa Fe trying to help guys with PTSD work through the trauma of that. So I think in addition to the larger, broader government programs that are in place, you have a community that's responding with little programs all over that are really making a difference.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, even talking, Scott, about the veterans who have problem, those who come back, detected to substances or with PTSD, or just physically maimed. But for those who are healthy who come back to San Diego, because a lot of them move here after having served here. What are their job prospects.

SCOTT LEWIS: That's interesting you bring that up. There's a former admiral, Ronne Froman who was the Navy mayor of San Diego, she's involved with a project called Reboot, which is about helping people who are about to become veterans, who leave the military, how to transition into civilian life, to figure out things they need to do. The thing about military life is it's completely regimented. Obviously, you're hold what to do, when to do it, you're provided for, your healthcare is provided for, your next steps are outlined very clearly for the next 30�years if you want to follow the path. You leave, and none of that is available in the civilian world. And so I think projects like that, like Teresa said, when we were going to, you know, a new civilian life that helps -- it does look like the community is rallying for them. And I think that we run a danger when we focus only on treating them like victims or on pitying them. And we need to be proud and recognize the pride and the sacrifice that they made, that they've made, and help them -- provide resources to help them regain a sense of stability.

GLORIA PENNER: Teresa?

TERESA CONNORS: They're also amazingly resourceful folks. And a number of them, we have had a number of stories about them starting their own businesses and just going out there and connecting to the community. So I think Scott's point is just really well taken. They're not victims. They're really smart, intelligent men and women, and we just need to channel them so that they can continue.

GLORIA PENNER: Before, we mentioned sacrifice, Tony, and before we end, you follow the camp pent will to know marines closely and have been with them in Iraq and Afghanistan several times. What losses have they suffered recently? How are they doing?

TONY PERRY: Agonizing losses. One battalion, the third battalion fifth regiment has lost 13 in the last couple weeks, 2-dozen over all from Camp Pendleton. This is tough fighting in Helmand province where the battle is joined with the Taliban. IF this is public policy we want to continue, it's gonna get worse before it gets better. On the other topic, credit where credit is due, San Diego state university, UC San Diego, both have stepped up to help veterans return and go to college with the new GI bill.

GLORIA PENNER: How?

TONY PERRY: With the new GI bill, tutoring access to the university, which can be daunting with all the applications, housing here, veterans association at San Diego state. San Diego state, UC San Diego both have done very well.

GLORIA PENNER: For veterans who may be listening to this program and just got turned on by what you said, is there some kind of a central source, a central number, something they can contact?

TONY PERRY: Call your -- if you have a counselor from VA, call him, if not, call San Diego state, call the president's office here, Steve weber.

GLORIA PENNER: Thank you very much. That's Toby Perry, San Diego bureau chief for the Los Angeles times. We have had Teresa Connors regional editor for the North County times, and Scott Lewis, that inveterate Scott Lewis, the CEO inveterate, not vet ran, Scott Lewis for the voice of San Diego.org. Thanks to our callers and our listeners, this is the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner.

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