November 11, 2015
Learning Life Lessons from Our Veterans
In 2014, a group from the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET) in Baltimore City attended a mental health presentation provided by MHAMD at an annual conference entitled “Why Women Cry.” The rookie MCVET case manager took note that many in the group were uneducated about the very mental illnesses from which they suffered. She was inspired and within a few weeks, she arranged for MHAMD to provide bi-weekly classes to teach the students at MCVET about important behavioral health issues.
The veterans in the MCVET program are called students. They are individuals who have served our country at various levels and who have, in recent years, hit hard times including homelessness. Most of the students experience mental illness, substance use disorders or both. All of them come to MCVET to get their lives on a healthier path and to realize fuller potential. They abandon rank (from a military perspective) and band together in a higher mission – to learn necessary skills and strategies to meet new life goals.
As the MHAMD staff person teaching the MCVET classes on behavioral health, it took only one class for me to learn that the interactive format would place me in the learner’s seat and enable the students to provide the real lessons.
It is humbling to hear from the men and women who are beginning the walk of recovery in the most real sense. It is maddening to hear the internalized stigma and contrition of these individuals who express deep shame for the road they’ve been trudging – the other end of the road they bravely patrolled for me and for my country.
I am always struck by the humility and respect the students show to each other in acknowledgement of individual worth and personal growth. Despite their self-doubt and bruised psyches, they serve as model warriors, delving into self-reflection and deeper contemplation of the experiences they’ve endured on multiple battlegrounds. It is very hard and tiring work for people who find each day to be hard and tiring. Yet, each student endures his or her own epic struggle for self-sufficiency, autonomy and, ultimately, serenity.
Along the way, the experienced students pull the newer students up and into a brighter life. In each class, I benefit from that same pull and I have been stretched to a much greater appreciation for the depth of sacrifice, persistence of bravery and heroism of recovery taught to me by the students at MCVET.
I haven’t been to MCVET after a summer hiatus. I think it is time to return for more lessons.
— Kim Burton, MHAMD’s Director of Older Adult Programs
Happy Veterans Day to all who have served, and for the sacrifices made by their family members.