Helping veterans with transition after service


The Center for Students with DisABILITIES has provided services for veterans who suffer not only from physical disorders but also post-traumatic stress disorder.  |  Izmail Glosson/The Daily Cougar

Once a week, Center for Students with DisABILITIES counselor Patricia Aburime stops by the Veterans Services Office.

Aburime is excited to help veterans during her two-hour visit for CSD’s new collaboration with VSO, an idea that stemmed from CSD Director Cheryl Amoruso.

Veterans are not the only ones who can utilize CSD’s services. These services are extended to anyone who is diagnosed with a learning disability, psychological disorder, health or physical impairment.

“Students sometimes think our services are only for visible disabilities,” Aburime said. “We accommodate all types of disabilities, including depression, anxiety and PTSD. Our mission statement is to make sure we can provide accommodations, so students can perform on the same level as students who do not have disabilities.”

Any diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, is recognized, Aburime said.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that this year, there’s been a lot more acceptance toward CSD,” said business senior Christian Espinoza. “I have seen the perception change so much and people just embracing it. I’ve seen so many veterans just actually embracing it, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Although Espinoza has attended UH since 2010, it wasn’t until this semester that he began seeking services from CSD for a few of his classes.

“People tend to think because it says disability, they automatically think of physical disabilities,” Espinoza said.

“But people tend to forget that there’s also invisible wounds and emotional scars.  Like all these other things you don’t get to see, like traumatic brain injury; on the outside they might be fine, but are they fine internally? The same goes with depression; you feel it, but you can’t see it. ”

Another misconception about the CSD is that they provide services outside the scope of academics.

“Sometimes people, when they hear disability, they automatically send students to our center,” Aburime said.  “Our office focuses on accommodations for academics and helping students with obstacles in their coursework. If the matter is not related to academics, we can only consult and/or refer the student other resources.”

Aburime works with students who have learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“CSD is one of our closest partners, and we have a long history of working together,” said Clinical Director Dr. Christopher Scott. “Most college counseling centers do not offer LD and ADHD testing services, because these assessments require specialized training and the process is very time-intensive.”

Counseling and Psychological Services assists CSD by providing referrals for students seeking specialized assessments, Scott said. CSD also provides a quiet testing environment.

“Sometimes students cannot concentrate in a room full of 200 students,” Aburime said.  “We offer a distraction-reduced environment; it’s a nice quiet set-up, and those rooms are first come, first served. The larger testing rooms are quiet and distraction-reduced, but if students want their own room to test in, then that is an option.”

Espinoza uses these services for his severe anxiety, panic attacks, depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. He is fairly open about his diagnosis and credits CSD for helping him.

“I don’t like saying disability; I don’t know how people feel about that. I think it’s more something that you have to deal with,” Espinoza said. “They asked me what it is I have a challenge with, and I like it that they call it a challenge, because it is a challenge … A disability, I don’t like saying that.”

CSD also offers disability-related counseling for students.

“That can entail directing them to the proper resources on campus and maybe even just talking,” Aburime said. “I like to make sure that students are OK before they leave my office, especially if they are upset.  If they’re still having a hard time, then I will direct them to a helpful resource like CAPS.”

Espinoza had to be medically withdrawn last semester because he wasn’t able to perform as he usually does.

“I’m an A-average student,” Espinoza said. “I’ve made the dean’s list before, and last semester was just horrible. I was having panic attacks, I was having issues that I had to take care of, nightmares, things of that nature. It’s just very hard to deal with.”

Espinoza added that many people don’t like to talk about PTSD because of the stigma around it. Scott said any situation that causes significant fear of injury or loss of life can cause PTSD.

“I think that transitioning from military to civilian life can be a huge stressor for veterans,” Scott said. “It often means loss of status, role and identity as a service member. It can also be difficult for veterans to adjust to the unstructured routine of civilian life. These stressors can lead to anxiety, depression or exacerbation of underlying PTSD symptoms.”

When he was 19, Espinoza dealt with suicide bombings every other day while in Iraq. Having seen people with torn limbs come off the medevacs, he continues to try to suppress the PTSD symptoms his service caused.

“You don’t know how to relate to those emotions when you’re actually really living it — having to hear all these sirens go off and asking for blood,” Espinoza said. “When you see something like that, it engraves in your soul, and it never lets go, because I have been dealing with that for the longest time.”

It wasn’t until Espinoza returned from deployment that he began dealing with his emotions. He came home to a parade and felt great for a couple of weeks, but after a while, life gets boring and you feel like you have no purpose, he said.

“CSD has done a phenomenal job; it’s just up to the student to decide if they need help or not,” Espinoza said. “It’s a tool in your toolbox you’re able to utilize if you need it. You just got to face the challenges, and you got to keep trucking.”

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