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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

GVSU's Hidden Wounds of War conference helps veterans and their families find support

Five veterans smiling and waiving at Hidden Wounds of War conference
Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University welcomed its 11th Hidden Wounds of War conference on Thursday. The event,  which is a partnership with GVSU, the Hauenstein Center, The West Michigan Veterans Coalition and the Kent County Veterans Services Office, is aimed at creating conversation around mental health obstacles that veterans can face. 

The conference was held virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the University’s Military and Veterans’ Resource Manager, Jill Wolfe, says the platform change didn't affect the important discussions.

"We want to have conversations in the community that help these veterans,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe herself is a veteran, and is outspoken against the broad labels, specifically in regards to mental health, that surround those who serve.

“I don’t like to focus that this is the defining characteristics of who veterans are, having these invisible wounds" she said, "...We have a mental health issue in this country, not just the military. I think that veterans deserve the best care they can possibly get, especially if the mental health issues are related and connected to their service.”

The event kicked off at 8:30am, with breakout rooms throughout the day. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock served as this year's keynote speaker.

Discussions surrounding military sexual assaults held even more focus this year, as the conference took place on the backdrop of bipartisan legislation that if passed would take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.

“The way that it currently works and has worked for a very long time is if a sexual assault case comes up, the military will investigate it, and they’re not particularly well trained in these cases. Then they create a report which then goes to the commanders of the unit, and you can imagine how this would create a conflict of interest is the perpetrator is within the chain of command," Wolfe explained.

Wolfe says this could be one of the biggest legislation changes seen in a generation, noting the importance of recognizing the diverse individuals that currently serve.

"There's the new focus that we’re seeing on women in the military, making sure that they feel seen and heard," Wolfe said, "...How do we bring women into this conversation? Women who have served, because a lot of us when we think of veterans we think of old men in hats or guys with beards... and this isn’t an accurate reflection of what the United States military looks like."

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