Summit addresses veterans' issues

Representatives from area governments, major employers, colleges and the medical community gathered at the Kroc Center on Tuesday to discuss the problems facing many veterans as they re-enter the civilian world.

The daylong summit was presented as a joint effort of the Augusta Warrior Project, the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon and the city of Augusta.

“Taking care of our veterans is something everybody should embrace,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ron Pflieger.

Panels of experts addressed issues such as re-entry into family life, health care, education and employment.

While Fort Gordon does a good job of connecting veterans with services, the community could do a better job of reaching veterans who are returning home and don’t know where to turn, they said.

One problem, said Jim Lorraine, the director of the Augusta Warrior Project, is that veterans are returning from bases around the country and don’t know where to find help in their hometowns.

“I’m worried about the airman coming out of Moody Air Force Base and coming here,” he said.

North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones, Aiken Mayor Pro Tem Dick Dewar and Columbia County Commissioner Ron Cross said they would like to improve veterans services in their jurisdictions and are eager to learn how to do that.

One area of concern is jobs, and governments and private employers can help by hiring veterans. Many acquire skills during their military careers that are desirable in the civilian marketplace. Jones said North Augusta has hired several former military police for its public safety force.

Veterans are able to learn new skills and concepts, work well in teams, have strong leadership skills and are experienced in technology and global concepts, but they have trouble translating those skills into terminology a civilian employer can understand.

Panelists Deb Forten with ADP, Matthew Kwatinetz with Starbucks, Mike Uhl with Bridgestone and Jerry Baker with the Georgia Department of Labor said employers can help by giving veterans a little extra time during an interview to explain the duties they performed in the service.

Stacie Williams, the director of the Academic Success Center at the University of South Carolina Aiken, attended the summit to learn more about how she could help veterans enrolled in her school.

“USC Aiken is very interested in supporting our students who are veterans,” she said. “We wanted to come today to make new connections and also learn any new things that we might be able to do for those veterans.”

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