Loyola helping veterans adjust to civilian life
As a mother with three children in the military, Loyola professor Janice Matthews Rasheed, PhD, is keenly aware of the dangers that service members face while on active duty. And as a researcher in the School of Social Work, she also knows the challenges that military men and women deal with when they return to civilian life.
Those difficulties—which include high rates of unemployment, homelessness, and suicide—are outlined in “The State of the American Veteran: The Chicagoland Veterans Study,” a joint survey by Loyola University Chicago and the University of Southern California. Conducted in 2015 and released earlier this year, the study is the first comprehensive look at the Chicago area’s military population.
“This is a starting point that will help us develop relevant social policy and begin to address service barriers and gaps for veterans and military families,” Rasheed said.
The study paints a jarring picture of post-military life for many area veterans. Among the findings:
• About 61 percent of pre-9/11 and 65 percent of post-9/11 veterans left the military without a job waiting for them in the civilian world.
• About half of pre-9/11 and 42 percent of post-9/11 veterans left the military unsure of where they would be living.
• Many left active duty with untreated physical and mental health issues, which were higher among post-9/11 veterans.
Although there are local agencies and organizations now that help veterans, Rasheed said they often focus on just a single issue, such as job training or counseling. That approach can force veterans to visit several places before they receive all the help they need. Loyola is hoping to change that “silo” model and create what Rasheed calls “a constellation of service systems.”
“We want to build programs for veterans that are linked, like a spider web,” she said. “That means someone could come in for one issue but also benefit from the other services we offer.”
The School of Social Work is developing four projects to help veterans, Rasheed said, and they all will contain a social services element. One partnership is with the School of Law to provide legal aid for veterans. Another is with the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing to study sleep disorders, which affect many veterans who were deployed in combat zones.
The School of Social Work also will partner with the new Loyola Community and Family Services to provide mental health counseling for veterans and their families. And the school will work with private agencies and community groups to help improve their job training programs.
That last effort is especially important because unemployment can lead to so many other problems, Rasheed said. And while many veterans leave the military with years of high-tech work experience—in fields ranging from avionics to cyber security—they often are overlooked for positions because they don’t have civilian certifications.
Rasheed said the country must do a better job of preparing men and women to succeed after their military service comes to an end.
“Career counseling should start while they are in the military,” she said. “Planning for a new job after you get out is already too late. Students at Loyola get to attend job fairs and resume workshops before they graduate. We should be doing the same thing with veterans before they leave the service.”
Rasheed also works with Illinois Joining Forces, a public-private network of organizations that help service members, veterans, and their families. Visit illinoisjoiningforces.org for more information and a list of resources.