According to the Census Bureau, there are about 21.8 million veterans in the United States. But only about 26 percent of veterans 25 and older have obtained a bachelor’s degree.
Leading up to Veterans Day next Wednesday, the Daily 49er will be publishing a series of features on various veterans at California State University, Long Beach to share their stories.
Meet veteran Derek McGraw, an organismal biology major at California State University, Long Beach. He spends his free time working to get more veterans into higher education to assuage the previously mentioned statistics. The Daily 49er talked with McGraw about his involvement with aiding veterans.
Q: Tell me about yourself. What’s your major and why are you studying that?
A: I was a Navy Corpsman for eight years and I got out of the service in 2011. I am majoring in organismal biology because I have always been intrigued by the sciences. I am also on a pre-med track. My ultimate goal is to finish my degree here and go to medical school. If I am fortunate enough to make it into medical school, I plan on going back into the Navy and finish out my 20 years of service.
Q: Explain what it is that you do for veterans on campus.
A: I am the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Essentially I am the veteran student-body representative. If the veterans that make up a portion of our community have any issues, concerns, or even suggestions, I am the one they can go to as I represent them and can bring their issues to the ASI government. I also try to come up with events that focus on veterans. For example, on Monday the 9th of November, I will be hosting a screening of a documentary called Restrepo about an Army unit in Afghanistan and will have a Q-and-A with a panel of veterans after the screening.
Q: What led you to help veterans?
A: Being a veteran myself, I have experienced some of the struggles that other veterans have when it comes to things like transitioning to civilian life, getting VA benefits or even just figuring out what am I going to do now that I am no longer serving. I am extremely proud that I put on a uniform for eight years and I am fortunate to be in the situation that I am in now. However, some veterans struggle with transitioning or their past experiences and may feel like they are alone. So I feel that it is my duty to do what I can for those that share a bond through service to this country.
Q: What are some of the biggest difficulties veterans face when returning to school?
A: One of the biggest problems facing veterans, besides dealing with the VA for benefits, is the fact that most of the time student-veterans are a little older and may feel out of place in classes with freshman and sophomores that are barely removed from high school. It is a feeling that most of the people in class, or at the school, don’t relate to veterans at all.
Q: Why is it important to help veterans?
A: It’s important because transitioning for some may be a difficult challenge. Transitioning to civilian life may seem trivial, but it can be extremely daunting as there is a lot of insecurity as to what the future holds in store. It is a change in every aspect of a veteran’s life. Even now, there are 22 veterans that commit suicide every day on average. That is unacceptable. There needs to be help available for veterans to avoid that as one veteran suicide is one too many. Some veterans are also having difficulty finding employment because there are corporations out there that feel every veteran has PTSD, and there is an unwarranted stigma on those that do have it. This has increased veteran poverty and homelessness. This is something that needs to change as these veterans served this country with honor and don’t deserve to be pushed aside when they get out.
Q: What would you suggest to other students who may want to help veterans as well?
A: Just being conscientious of what they are saying around veterans can help tremendously. There are certain “triggers” that someone can say that could potentially bring up some bad memories, so it would help to avoid certain topics, unless the veteran is willing to open up. There are charities that help with disabled or homeless veterans that they can certainly look in to. Some don’t even need monetary donations, but things like clothes and toiletries that go to those veterans in need.