“When I came back from my fourth and final deployment, I battled PTSD pretty severely,” said Mark Stillion.
Stillion has seen and experienced a lot during his deployments, first to Iraq and then to Afghanistan.
Those things made it tough for him to adjust to civilian life, but he got help and is now in his senior year at Kent. With a master’s program for counseling ahead of him, he’s determined to help others.
“I’m a big advocate for veterans’ mental health, to bring the suicide rate down and help with post-traumatic stress. That’s what I have a passion for and that’s what I want to do.” Stillion said.
Stillion has found his calling, but for many veterans, the next thing to come after their time in the military is not always easy to find.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says unemployment among post-9/11 veterans is slightly higher, but mostly it’s attributed to the fact that many are under 30 and are making big adjustments in life.
Also, many veterans either underuse or don’t use the benefits that they’re entitled to under the GI Bill, which includes full payment of skills training or college tuition.
“When you come to college, you definitely increase your earning potential. The data’s out there. The numbers are higher for those folks who get an associate, even at one of our regional campuses.” KSU Adult and Veteran’s Services Office Director Joshua Rider said.
Kent State, like most colleges in Ohio, has a special office to help veterans get started and help them take advantage of the benefits they’ve earned.
Rider says veterans are older students who have needs that are very different from someone just out of high school and they do everything to support those needs.
“Come into the office and talk to you about what your benefits are going to be. We connect you with services on campus.” Rider said. “If you have other issues, we can connect you to other services to make sure that your transition is smooth.”
With the US involvement in Afghanistan over, more and more military members are expected to leave the service and look for that next chapter in their lives.
Starting college in his late 20’s, Stillion says it was a different type of shock and awe.
At 34, he says these steps he’s making now and what he brings to the table live up to one of the biggest lessons he learned from his time in the service — Marines always move forward.
“I also offer a lot of insight to the classes that other students may not have the experience I have and have gone through,” he said.