By Angie Hartlove
Chair of the Women Veterans Outreach Action Team
at the Women's Resource Center
The Women Veteran Outreach Action Team, a part of the WRC’s Empowerment Project, is as pro-student veteran groups. Free from association with any religious beliefs, political ideology, or military traditions, we endeavor to provide a space where women veterans and their allies can socialize, support one another, and get the help they need to succeed in college and at life. Even if you’re not a veteran, you may be interested to know you can still serve in a valuable role as an ally! What does it mean, to be an ally to veterans?
Understanding how to be the best ally starts with understanding more about veterans. Veterans are a special class of students here at Portland State. Firstly, it’s important to remember that veterans are male, female, and culturally and economically diverse. We must make room for all their voices and consider all of their unique needs. But veterans are diverse in more ways than may meet the eye: some are proud of serving, some are morally distraught. Some who didn’t serve in combat feel lucky, and some feel ashamed. Many veterans have strong feelings about their military experiences, and some cannot feel at all. Treating each veteran as a unique person, respecting difference, and not categorizing veterans all in one ‘group,’ is very important.
Not all veterans enjoy attending veterans’ events. Rather than being upset by this, it’s important to respect that for some, events are painful reminders, and some veterans are uncomfortable in crowds or with their veteran status. We must accept where they are right now, and remain available for them. Many veterans struggle with health issues: physical, mental, emotional, these issues can long outlast someone’s official involvement with the military and are very often not immediately evident. Besides offering resource information for treatment of these issues, it’s important to expect the unexpected, especially in regards to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other military stress. For example, we may need to offer a veteran a seat at an event which provides easy exit and a view of everyone in the room. Or we may need to hold our meetings in a room with windows.
As an ally, it’s important to not be overly-eager to tell a veteran, “I understand.” Few who haven’t experienced military service can understand the experience. Few who haven’t experienced war can understand the experience. It is essential to be a witness, to just be quiet and listen. Allow veterans the space to tell you what they want and need to share. Offer your attention, affirm that they are not alone. Ask questions, but be cautious to use words to benefit the veteran and not your own ego. Allies are an important part of our student groups, helping support and heal, and encouraging the success of our veteran population at PSU.
If you’d like more information on how to get involved with the Women Veteran Outreach Action Team, please contact me (the action team chairperson) Angie Hartlove at firstname.lastname@example.org, or our outreach coordinator Britni Childs at email@example.com.