Veterans panel discusses the negative effects of ignoring mental health


Jacob Waring — Online Editor

Renne Bennett’s son, Taekyung, was playing with his rubber motorcycle, making “vroom-vroom” sounds up and down William Muhl’s left arm during the “From Boots to Books” Veteran Panels.

Muhl, a communication major, said that Taekyung being there helped show that veterans are more than just veterans but are people with families as well.

“Usually you think you bring in, like, a toddler to a panel like, it’s going to be a nightmare,” Muhl said. “It also got to show just [Bennett] being a mother. Like, how, you know, how difficult that would be.”

Muhl said it was a quick reminder to all the students that were in the audience that Bennett is a veteran who is older than most students and has kids, so scenarios, such as bringing a toddler to a panel, happen.

According to Muhl, Taekyung also provided comic relief that brought levity to serious topics, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, veteran suicide and their day-to-day challenges adjusting to civilian life.

During the panel discussion Muhl pointed out how his military experience in the Army led to appreciating seeing youthful Taekyung get to experience life in a developed country rather than a country that is not as well developed.

“He’s getting to eat donuts and play with a little motorcycle thing,” Muhl said, “but a lot of times we saw kids over there just playing with the trash on the street that they can find. You know, there’s — it’s a real different life out there.”

Bennett, an interdisciplinary studies major, touched on the challenges she faces as a mother and a college student.

Bennett said a lot of veterans put their experiences in bottles, like messages in bottles, and put them in “a little closet in their head”.

“It gets to a point where all of these bottles are just like stacked against each other,” Bennett said. “Then [the bottles] start cracking and everything else is leaking into your subconscious. You never know how something is going to have, is going to come out later.”

Jack Mordente, coordinator of Veteran’s and Military Affairs, who moderated the panel discussion, touched on mental health in veterans and shared an anecdote to emphasize how big of an issue Veterans suicide is.

He said that about 10 years ago, two marines that were students at Southern committed suicide.

“In both cases, they would go to the V.A. They were on medication,” Mordente said, “but, as it happens all too often, they stop doing that.”

“For me,” Mordente said, “getting that phone call was, you know, at that point, one of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with.”

He ended the anecdote by saying that all students, not just veterans, should seek help if they are dealing with mental health issues.

Phil Dinh, who is part of the U.S. Army Reserves, finished deployment in Guantanamo Bay back in January. He said he cannot get into specifics about his time there due to a nondisclosure agreement he signed.

However, Dinh did take the time to share some details with students about the island.

“Guantanamo Bay was quite interesting. So, it’s like a little isolated island. There’s only two ways in and two ways out,” Dinh said.

Graduate student Rene Rivera, who represented the Marines at the panel, described his experience in an Anti-Terrorism Battalion in Fallujah, Iraq.

“What we have was not technically firefights,” he said. “There were more suicide bombers, vehicle bombs.”

The Communications 450 capstone class said they wanted to help veterans. She said the class wanted non-veterans to be able to hear their stories.

Communication major Kaylee Carasone, a senior, said hearing their experience in active service was amazing.

“I think it was amazing to hear their experiences,” she said, “Even seeing that these are our classmates and what they’ve experienced in their in their experience in the active service.”

One comment

  • Thank you Jacob Waring for taking the time to write this story. My communication capstone course was thrilled as we believe Veterans recognition matters and is very important. As a class our goal was to give Veterans a welcoming to transitioning into civilian life in college and we did this panel to make them feel united with us. The connection we built with Veterans as a class is amazing, and our project manager William Muhl inspired our class to do something about this in helping Veterans experience on campus be a great one. Again thank you for highlighting the Veterans Panel story.

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