Stars & Stripes

Brian+Hicks

Brian Hicks

KIMBERLY KRATZ

Brian Hicks, Florence, NJ,
was a cook in the military for
28 years. Now a student of
food science at Bucks, he considers
being a chef a hobby.
While his residence is actually
closer to Lower Bucks campus,
his classes are at Newtown.
“The commute is intense,” he
said. But the reason he now
attends Bucks has a lot to do
with the vet representative of
the college.
Injuries he sustained in the
military prevented him from
returning to his job, so Hicks is
currently working on a fouryear
degree via “Chapter 31,”
the Vocational Rehabilitation
and Employment (VR&E)
VetSuccess Program.
The “VetSuccess” program,
according to its website,
“assists veterans with serviceconnected
disabilities to prepare
for, find, and keep suitable
jobs.” For those whose
disabilities are so severe that
they cannot immediately consider
work, “VetSuccess offers
services to improve their ability
to live as independently as
possible.”
Hicks succinctly explained,
“If the vet representative is not
very good or is overwhelmed,
then you don’t want to go to
that school,” a difficulty he
previously faced attending
Drexel. He believes that the
Drexel vet rep did not understand
the specifics of the
Chapter 31 program, and Hicks
had to effectively do the rep’s
job. However, Hicks blames
some of the problems he
encountered on financial cutbacks
that left, for example, a
single representative handling
two colleges at once.
The process of entering
vocational rehab, Hicks says,
takes around six months, during
which the veteran is evaluated
for 30 days. A series of
tests in the selected field are
given to determine placement;
in his case, in food sciences.
While he says he tested high
and found he could go to nearly
any school in the country, in
his experience, schools don’t
necessarily know how to deal
with some of the unique problems
that veterans face.
“They are not used to what
would affect a veteran,” Hicks
expanded. “And that’s what
the problem is. They need to
figure out that we’re not like
other [people with] disabilities.”
Sometimes, veterans’
disabilities are not physical
and immediately visible. Small
rooms and large crowds bother
Hicks. He has found that some
school liaisons working to
assist veterans are not themselves
veterans, and sometimes
they don’t understand.
U.S. Army Vice Chief of
Staff, General Peter Chiarelli,
and his wife Beth announced a
new White House initiative
this week, which aims to help
veterans and their families.
When asked if he’d heard of it,
Hicks replied, “No. All I keep
hearing and what I keep getting
are letters about the benefits
they keep cutting from us.
And I don’t think that’s right.
My medical has been cut since
I got into vocational rehab, and
it was supposed to be 100 percent.
Well, that was reneged
by the President, and now
they’re changing the GI Bill
status.”
Hicks added, “They just keep
taking away from us and I
don’t think it’s fair.” He
explained that veterans’ contract
says that they will be
taken care of, but when it
comes time to collect, everything
is done to deter veterans
from taking advantage of the
benefits to which they are entitled.
The daily challenges that
Hicks faces in reintegrating
and trying to work within the
government guidelines are
made difficult by the liaisons’
lack of knowledge of the variety
of government programs.
He offered one solution, saying,
“What I think they need to
do is to sit down with the vets,
and talk to them and find out
what they need. Because they
don’t know. It’s a constant
problem I keep running into.”
When Hicks tells people that
he is a veteran, they automatically
think that he was a soldier
in Iraq. The assumption, therefore,
is that, as such, he’d be a
part of the Yellow Ribbon or
Montgomery GI program, neither
of which is the case for
him.
Conflicts are happening all
around the world; it’s not all
necessarily in declared wars.
Furthermore, Hicks said, military
personnel are shot at on a
regular basis in some places.
Sometimes, even the things
they see in training exercises
have a negative effect on their
psychological fortitude.
This is the point of the new
White House initiative. Vice
President Joe Biden and First
Lady Michelle Obama will be
touring the U.S. to promote it.
In an MSNBC interview with
Andrea Mitchell, Gen.
Chiarelli explained that there
will be a push for doctors to
join the Tri-Care Network, a
military health plan, so national
guardsman can get help.
The program places new
emphasis on treatment of posttraumatic
stress disorder and
traumatic brain injury, as well
as a reduction in suicide rates
among veterans. It is Gen.
Chiarelli’s contention that continuing
to talk about these
issues and keeping them in the
forefront will help ensure that
veterans get the help they need.
He said that the goal is to
“make behavioral health- the
invisible wounds- as serious as
those wounds that we see on
the soldiers, ’cause they are;
they are as serious and they are
true wounds.” If successful,
the new initiative will address
at least some aspects of Hicks’
concerns. For their service,
veterans deserve it.