Pitt office hosts events to celebrate Veterans Day

By Abbey Reighard / Staff Writer

Bryan Adams survived a bullet wound in Iraq, but struggled with normal life when he came home. Last week when he spoke at Pitt, he told others how they can get help.

“I was in a dark, dark place, and it wasn’t until I had that support at the hospital that I could start to fix things,” Adams said last Monday at his talk.

Adams’ talk was one of three events over these past two weeks coordinated by Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services. The program provides support for veterans and military students transitioning to student life and using government and University tuition benefits. Along with Adams’ talk, the office will hold two more events this week in honor of Veterans Day. 

These three events are part of what the office is referring to as Veterans Week.

There are more than 400 veterans and students using veterans’ benefits for school. This past year, 142 new veteran students enrolled at Pitt.

Ryan Ahl, director of the Pitt Office of Veterans Service who served two tours in Iraq in 2004 and 2009, said that he hopes that Veterans Week will inform students at Pitt about veterans on campus and communicate the difficulties of transitioning to life on a college campus after active duty.

This Veterans Day will mark the third year that Pitt has conducted the National Remembrance Roll Call, which will be held this year in Heinz Memorial Chapel from 10 a.m. to noon today. 

The names of Pennsylvanian service men and women who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan will be read for the first hour of the event, and for the second hour, participants will be able to write thank you cards for individuals currently serving overseas.  

Speakers at the event will include G. Reynolds Clark, vice chancellor for community initiatives and chief of staff at Pitt; John McCabe, president and CEO of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall; and Staff Sgt. Paul Kantner of the U.S. Marine Corps, who was named 2013 Outstanding Student of the Year in the College of General Studies. 

Throughout the day, members of the Pitt Office of Veterans Services and volunteers will collect donations for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that provides financial assistance to wounded veterans and their dependents.

As part of Veterans Week, the Office of Veterans Services will also sponsor a talk by Pitt alumnus Bryan Bender, author of the book “You Are Not Forgotten,” which was published last month. The talk will take place Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the O’Hara Student Center. 

Bender’s book follows the true stories of two American servicemen: Maj. George Eyster V of the U.S. Army and Capt. Ryan McCown, a Marine Corps pilot.

McCown was killed during World War II. Eyster sets out on a mission to New Guinea to find McCown’s remains and bring them home more than 60 years after he was shot down in 1944.

To kick off Veterans Week, the Office of Veterans Services sponsored Adams’ talk. Pitt’s chapter of Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group, sponsored the event.

Adams spoke to more than 30 people gathered in the William Pitt Union Ballroom about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq from 2004 to 2005.

Representatives from Talk About It, a mental health advocacy group, and Pitt Vets, a veterans advocacy group, also attended the event.

Adams suffered a gunshot wound to the leg during a patrol in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2004.

He said that for the first month after he returned home, he received a lot of support from his friends and family.

But Adams felt frustrated and irritable as he tried to adjust to everyday life.

He worked at Home Depot and then Sears. He was fired from both jobs.

“I couldn’t deal with the managers. I couldn’t deal with the customers,” Adams said.

Adams said he became sad, anxious, irritable and found that he couldn’t tolerate being in crowded places. He couldn’t relate to anyone about the way he was feeling.

He tried attending community college in Massachusetts with a friend who had served in Iraq with him, but left because he was disinterested in his classes and often found himself distracted from his work.

After Adams attended a group therapy session at a veterans’ hospital and heard the stories from fellow veterans, he determined that he had PTSD. 

Adams called his parents and opened up to them about his disorder and about how he had been feeling since he came home.

Adams now shares his story with others because he believes that the struggles of soldiers as they transition from military duty need to be addressed.

“If you’re dealing with something and you’re not talking about it, how are you helping? These stigmas are bringing us down,” Adams said. 

Sophomore and former active-duty Marine Matt Hannan, president of Pitt Vets, said that Adams’ story is similar to that of many service men and women.

“We all have different reasons for serving, but we can relate to each others’ experiences. I wanted Bryan [Adams] to know that he is not alone,” Hannan said.