Western Colorado veterans transition to civilian life
Kyle Davis, a Grand Junction resident and a veteran of the United States Army, is no stranger to struggle. After graduating from Colorado Mesa University with a mass communication degree in 2013, Davis — already a husband and father — sought employment during an economic downturn. Yet, years before that he faced an even greater challenge — returning to civilian life after serving in Iraq from 2004-2007.
According to Davis, he experienced a great deal of anxiety after returning from overseas service with post-traumatic stress disorder. He also sustained a traumatic brain injury due to “multiple roadside bomb attacks,” according to a previous interview with the Free Press last year, that caused him to experience headaches and seizures.
“The transition back to school from the military was more shocking and difficult than heading back to work,” he said.
In 2008, only a year before Davis was driving a Humvee in Iraq, dodging explosions. Being in a classroom with 18- and 19-year-old students was a vastly different experience.
“It made me feel older than I was, and it was so surreal to go from two extremes like that,” he explained.
Davis isn’t alone in his plight. Many veterans find the transition from service to civilian life difficult.
“Each vet is different when they get home,” Grand Junction VA Medical Center’s spokesman Paul Sweeney confirmed.
According Sweeney, more than 14,000 veterans live in Mesa County and only about 45 percent of the veteran population becomes involved with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For returning men and women who are looking to get back into the workforce, Gene Farnsworth — a local veteran — suggests they choose a career path that represents life goals and interests.
“Prepare for a long and patient haul,” he said.
Farnsworth also said employers should take note that veterans may have many skills applicable to an open position, though they may not have local employment references.
“In the military we have to learn new technologies and processes quickly,” Farnsworth said, giving veterans a versatility and aptitude for learning that can be applied in a variety of jobs.
SUPPORT RESOURCES AVAILABLE
While attending Colorado Mesa University, Davis found the school’s Student Veterans Association to be a useful outlet. It enabled him to talk with other veterans going through similar situations, and it helped him reduce anxiety.
“It put me in a better place being able to talk to other veterans,” he said. “There is a strong support system for vets here in the valley. Nothing beats talking to other veterans who have been in similar situations.”
Colorado Mesa University’s Student Veterans Association is just one of the many resources available locally for members of the armed forces returning home.
“Mesa County is one of the best resources for veterans,” Sweeney said of Grand Valley’s community. “If one place can’t answer the issue for the veteran we can send them to someone who is able to help.”
The Grand Junction Vet Center, located at 2472 Patterson Road, offers readjustment counseling for veterans free of charge. Plus, the Grand Junction VA Medical Center offers many rehabilitation and vocational workshops through local nonprofits. Project Healing Waters, for instance, offers fly-fishing retreats for disabled veterans as a way to help find peace.
Other area outlets includes the Veteran’s Art Center (307 S. 12th St., Grand Junction) and Help Hospitalized Veterans (1670 North Ave., Grand Junction).
Grand Junction’s American Legion, as well as Grand Junction’s Veterans of Foreign Wars organization, also provides support for veterans of all ages. Disabled American Veterans offers a chapter in Grand Junction, too, providing “free, professional assistance to veterans and their families in obtaining benefits and services earned through military service,” its website said.
For more information on veterans services available in Colorado’s Grand Valley, visit http://www.va.gov.
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