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Veterans don’t have to 'suck it up'

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 11, 2007

“Improvise, adapt and overcome.”


That motto works well for U.S. Marines in combat. But home isn’t a battlefield.


Soldiers returning from war may want to adopt a more forgiving motto.


John Solis is aware of the pride that keeps some veterans from seeking help to settle back into life in Rock County. He sees it every day at work.


“You’re taught that you suck it up and go,” said Solis, Rock County veterans services officer. “Sometimes it is difficult to break through that macho barrier.”


And “macho,” doesn’t just describe the guys, Solis said. The number of female soldiers is growing, but women still seem to work extra hard to prove they’re tough, Solis said.


“You’re not supposed to show weakness,” he said.


Solis’ job is to help Rock County veterans apply for state and federal benefits, such as pensions, disability, education reimbursement or home loans.


There are 822 veterans living in Rock County who have served since 9/11. Of those, 497 have applied for benefits from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, a department spokeswoman said.


When soldiers are discharged, the U.S. Department of Defense holds a demobilization briefing. Solis speaks at those briefings, telling Rock County veterans he is available navigate the piles of paperwork that make up government benefit applications.


But when veterans step into Solis’ office, they don’t always want help filling out forms.


“They’ll sit there, and we just talk,” Solis said. “It’s just good to have somebody to listen to them. Sometimes the people they’re closest to they can’t talk to, like their husband, wife, mom, dad.”


Even while he’s signing veterans up for benefits, Solis is reading between the lines of the conversation. He studies a veteran’s body language and listens for cues that the veteran is suffering from a mental or physical illness he or she isn’t talking about or isn’t aware of.


“A lot coming back don’t know to volunteer that sort of information,” Solis said. “That’s where the interview process falls on us to note these things.”


Rashes from sand fleas or scorpion bites are common, Solis said. And the U.S. Veterans Administration is training Solis and others to watch for signs of traumatic brain injury—injuries to the brain without external wounds.


Some soldiers return from combat without signs of mental or physical distress. But for others it’s hard to readjust to living with their family in a non-combat zone, Solis said.


“They’ve been on high alert, then they come back,” Solis said. “Some folks can settle down and get back to normal routine with no problem whatsoever. Others have problems with that de-stressing thing. Consciously they know they’re home, subconsciously, they’re checking everything around them.”


Solis’ job is to find the struggling veterans and get them to the doctor or a support group. Sometimes the veteran knows something is wrong, but can’t put a finger on it.


“There’s something missing, and they need to talk to someone about it,” Solis said. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Help me figure it out.


“If you tell me what’s wrong with me, I can fix it.”


TO GET HELP

Rock County veterans—are you sure you’re getting all the military benefits you’re qualified for? If you’re not positive, stop in at one of two Rock County Veterans Services offices:


-- Janesville, Rock County Courthouse, 51 S. Main St., or call (608) 757-5552


-- Beloit, 62 Eclipse Center (formerly the Beloit Mall) or call (608) 363-6280


To learn more, visit www.co.rock.wi.us, then click on Veterans Services.



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