By Carolina Puga Mendoza
INDIANAPOLIS—The challenges veterans face, such as mental illness and unemployment, can be overlooked as the country focuses on reopening at full capacity. However, resources for them remain.
Rep. Mike Andrade, D-Munster, is hosting what he describes as the first town hall for veterans held by a legislator in Lake County. The town hall meeting has invited a variety of agencies to promote their resources.
Andrade belongs to the Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee in the Indiana House. He said he wants to bring awareness to the issues veterans face and connect them to what they and their families need.
“I felt that it was my responsibility to make sure that the veterans have a voice at the Statehouse, and I want to be able to show them that I care. They paid a sacrifice in their lives to go fight for our country and to help in other areas, and so the least we can do is to support them,” Andrade said.
Andrade and his team have been planning the event since March and managed to invite 15 agencies that will provide veterans a variety of resources. They wanted to hold an in-person meeting earlier to make the most out of it, but due to COVID-19, it was delayed until this summer.
The agencies will provide information on subjects ranging from mental health and therapy to housing and employment.
A common challenge among veterans and those who have actively served involve mental health issues and applying their experience to civilian jobs.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, common mental health factors affecting veterans include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. Research shows that unattended mental health problems lead to lower performance by the individual, leading to social and economic costs.
Homelessness and housing insecurity also challenge many veterans. According to a study, in the U.S., 14% of homeless adults are veterans.
Similarly, adjusting back into civilian life comes as a challenge for many. As previously reported in The Statehouse File, veterans can struggle in the transition back to civilian employment, failing to adapt their resumes from active duty.
“We talked about all the different things that they’ve done in their military careers and show them how that’s a direct correlation with what happens in civilian life, and once we make those connections, then people are like, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re right, I did do that kind of thing. I do have a lot more skills than what I thought I did,’” said John Zeigler, employment transition manager at Operation: Job Ready Veterans.
At the town hall, there will be people from colleges that offer tuition to veterans who want to pursue higher education. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, in the U.S. as of 2018, 52% of veterans were enrolled in undergraduate programs.
Also present will be food banks to provide veterans and their families with groceries. According to the Journal of Nutrition, almost 33% of surveyed families connected to a U.S. Army installation said they were food insecure in 2019.
Other organizations that will attend the town hall include Purdue Northwest, Combat Bike Saver, Lake County Recorder, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Lake County Veterans Treatment Court.
“On a state level and local level, we need to do a better job of marketing and letting people know [about resources] so that our veterans know about it,” Andrade said.
This year, only two out of 16 bills related to veterans became public law. Among them, Senate Enrolled Act 93 provides qualified nonresident veterans eligibility to pay in-state tuition, and SEA 316 changes the definition of “qualified service member” and requires the Indiana veterans’ affairs commission to complete certain changes to policies.
The town hall will take place at 10 a.m. EST Friday, July 16 at the Indiana Army National Guard, 2530 173rd St., Hammond, Indiana.
FOOTNOTE: Carolina Puga Mendoza is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.