Veterans give helping hand to fellow vets struggling to adjust to civilian life

Veterans help other vets struggling outside the community of military life.

Frank Rivera, a U.S. Air Force veteran, felt an overwhelming lack of support when pursuing his bachelor's degree after his service. Frustrated by his own experience, he decided to become a resource for other veterans seeking a college degree.

After providing support to vets in community college, Rivera was selected to launch the Military and Veterans Affairs department at the New York Institute of Technology in January 2019. His program currently assists 115 former service members.

Popow noticed that veterans in his community were being prescribed medication to deal with trauma. "I ... lost more Marines when they return from their combat tours of duty to suicide than the war itself," said Popow, a combat veteran and former Marine.

The organization's Program 360 initiative immerses participants in a humanitarian project serving children in countries soldiers fought in, helping those veterans overcome "combat guilt."

Both men stress that lack of access to resources plays a major role in the successful transition of former service members into civilian life.

According to Rivera, many veterans in the nation's colleges lack a community of people who understand what they've been through. "When you have a completely different life experience at 25 it's difficult to relate ... and feel like you're supposed to be there," he said.

"How can I ease that transition and what kind of support can I give [veterans] to really help them achieve their individualized success?," are questions that those who want to help vets should ask, Rivera advised.

Outside of institutions, family and friends play a huge role in the success of a vets’ transition. Popow suggests mediation services can provide safe spaces for children and spouses to come together because "it affects the entire family when one vet goes to war," he said.