By Joshua Samuel
Though it’s a federal holiday observed across the country and a day on which we honor all those who have served in the U.S. military, Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, is sometimes overlooked in terms of late-year holidays, as Thanksgiving, Christmas and other festive celebrations come quick on its heels.
But it is not overlooked by Kelsie Shawver.
The senior sociology major served three years in the U.S. Navy and she carries the memory with her every day, not only in terms of the service she proudly gave her country, but in her arthritic knee and in the post-traumatic stress disorder she deals with.
“It took me quite a long time to adjust to going to school and being a student,” says Shawver, 27. “I had a few personal things going on with myself. A lot of veterans would agree that going from active duty to…civilian life is not an easy transition.”
But Shawver has made the most of her time at California State University, Dominguez Hills, which she started attending in fall 2017, following her time at West Los Angeles College. A sociology major who plans on getting her master’s in social work from USC, she is secretary of the Loker Student Union board of directors and is a student assistant with the CSUDH Veteran’s Resource Center, for which she coordinated a clothing drive last year that gathered more than 700 pounds of clothing for veterans.
Shawver, who grew up in Inglewood, decided to join the United States Navy immediately after high school graduation in order to, she says, give back to the country that had “provided so much for me.”
She planned on serving at least 20 years in the Navy and retiring thereafter, but in her third year, while stationed in Florida, she suffered an accident that derailed those plans.
“I was running towards a door in the barracks and I slipped on something that was on the floor and hit my knee,” says Shawver.
She had dislocated her kneecap. The injury resulted in arthritis forming in her right knee and, she says, intensified her existing PTSD.
Always an athletic person, Shawver quickly realized after she dislocated her knee that “I was unable to do things that I could before. Seeing my fellow sailors completing tasks without me, having to ask for assistance to go to the restroom and just seeing regular people freely walking around angered me…The [pre-existing] PTSD was a combination of a couple of things, but [dislocating her knee] greatly affected it.”
Shawver says she blamed the Navy at times and thought of herself as “worthless.” And while her PTSD wasn’t a product of being fired at by enemy troops or seeing friends die in combat, she says she understands completely the struggles that so many veterans suffering from the condition experience when returning home.
“People who don’t suffer from this do not understand what it feels like to go day by day feeling unstable mentally or physically,” she says.
Certain sounds, such as the popping of fireworks can trigger a veteran, reminding them of their time in combat. And even apparently mundane things such as getting into an elevator could be a problem for those who are triggered by being in an enclosed space, Shawver says.
“PTSD is not something to be taken lightly, it is a very real thing,” she says. “What you as a civilian may not think twice about, there is a veteran suffering from that very instance.”
Shawver was medically discharged in February 2012 and admits that it was difficult re-integrating into civilian society. For several years, she worked the occasional jobs, such as at Home Depot and the U.S. Post Office, but it wasn’t until she entered college that she realized the path she wanted her life to take.
Even though her life has shifted from active duty to active student, Shawver’s involvement with the military wasn’t over. After graduating in the spring and then obtaining her social work master’s at USC, she plans on working as a social worker for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) Department. The reason? She knows first-hand the importance of people working for the VA who are dedicated to veterans and their families.
“We are sometimes treated like we are begging for things that are owed to us, such as housing or help with school… just all the benefits we are entitled to as veterans,” Shawver says. “I want to be a person who advocates for veterans and their families and helps them get the benefits that they deserve.”
Shawver says she wants to help the image, and unfortunate reality at times, of the VA not caring as much about veterans as it should.
“If you talk to one hundred veterans, nearly half of them will agree that it is extremely hard to get help from the VA because they act as if we don’t deserve that help,” she says. “A lot of us volunteer to go [serve the country] and a lot of those people need services [when they return].”
But Shawver isn’t waiting to finish her degree to help her fellow veterans. Last year, around Veteran’s Day, she organized a clothing donation drive.
“I am [physically] disabled and I know that during the winter months anyone [with similar conditions], whether you’re a veteran or not, can be in a lot of pain because of the weather,” she says. “So, think of someone who has arthritis. When it starts to get cold, their bones start to ache really badly and one of the things you can combat that [with], outside taking medicine, of course, is to try and stay warm…I just wanted to [help] keep someone warm and let them know people are thinking about them even if [they didn’t] think they are.”
The clothing drive resulted in 700 pounds of donated clothing that Shawver, through the Vietnam Veterans of America organization, was able to get to veterans who needed it most.
Shawver, who is working on a second clothing drive this year, graduates this spring but hopes that whoever takes her place as a student assistant will keep the clothing drive alive.
And while Shawver is appreciative that veterans get their own day in November to be saluted and remembered, she does think “we should be acknowledged more. The reasons why civilians are able to walk around freely….is because of those brave young men and women…. making the decision to protect their country.”
She hopes that on this Veteran’s Day, as people stop and remember friends and family members who served, that they also take a moment to honor those who are currently serving.
“Someone who does not know you is fighting to keep you safe,” she says. “A parent is away from their child, while you are at home with yours. A spouse is away from their spouse, while you are enjoying quality time with yours. Our country should recognize active duty [personnel] and veterans more.”
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