For Immediate Release: September 21, 2011
Contact: Frank Custer (215-527-5928)
Blue Bell, PA (September 21, 2011)— Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, Democratic candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner, today said that if elected they would seek a public/private partnership to establish a well-staffed, well-funded Veterans’ Success Center at Montgomery County Community College.
The Democrats announced their proposal at a press conference at the community college where they were joined by Tim Rayburn, a student-veteran enrolled at the college who described the challenges veterans face and how the proposed center would make the transition from war to an academic setting easier.
Shapiro and Richards outlined the problems faced by veterans acclimating to civilian and academic life upon returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There are 600 veterans enrolled here at Montgomery County Community College and those numbers are going to continue to increase as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down,” Shapiro said. “Many of these men and women have been through a crucible during their time in the military, and are now looking to put their lives back on track by getting an education and skill training in order to transition into public, private and non-profit careers.”
Shapiro pointed out that the G.I. Bill provides generous financial help to the returning veterans, but does not provide the critical social and psychological support needed.
“A recent study by the American Psychological Association revealed that 50 percent of veterans who have enrolled in college have considered suicide,” Richards said. “Twenty percent actually planned a suicide. Half of veterans in college suffer from PTSD. One-third suffers from anxiety, and one quarter from depression. The study also demonstrated that the transition from the military to a college campus can exacerbate the situation and socially isolate the veteran and they struggle to relate.
“Americans honor their men and women in uniform, but what about when they come home?” Richards said. “Too often when they come home and they are out of uniform, they are forgotten. One day a celebrated hero…the next day a man or woman struggling to find their way in society and today that struggle is complicated by a bad economy where jobs are scarce. We cannot and should not forget them.”
Shapiro pointed out that under the leadership of MCCC President Karen Stout, the college currently employs a part-time individual, with experience in working through the complexities of tuition benefits provided by the G.I. Bill and other military educational programs. This individual has also acted as the point person to direct returning veterans to the various college services available to them. Because of this approach, the College has gained a national Military Friendly College designation, and the college and staff have done a herculean job in the face of funding cutbacks, especially from the state government.
“Despite MCCC’s best efforts,” Richards said, “it is not enough. So today, we are announcing that a Shapiro-Richards administration would make it a priority to establish a Veterans’ Success Center at Montgomery County Community College that would build on the foundation that has been laid. The Veterans Success Center will close these gaps and support the degree and credential completion rates for this important segment of students. A comprehensive center will provide strong support systems to aid progression, degree attainment, and re-entry back into the civilian workforce.”
Shapiro said the Veterans’ Success Center provides a perfect situation for public/private cooperation. “We will aggressively seek corporate or private funding, with county help if necessary, to support a full-time Veterans Success Center Director, a part-time advisor, funding for program development for Veterans in areas like financial planning, mental health services, job placement support, and the development of a mentoring program that matches incoming veteran students with veteran graduates,” he said. “We will also bring to bear appropriate county offices and expertise to help provide the types of service necessary to serve the veterans, such as the county’s Workforce Investment Board, MH/MR office and the Veterans’ Affairs office.”