Dear Non-Veteran Student,

Thursday was Veterans Day. What comes to mind when you think of a veteran? They come in all varieties, from WWII octogenarians covered in medals, to tattooed Vietnam biker vets, to the student sitting next to you in class.
Did you know that 780 veterans attend UNM right now? Another 180 students are attending UNM on the GI Bill of a loved one who was killed in action or 100 percent disabled.
That’s nearly 1,000 people who attend UNM because of military service. There are almost another 1,000 veterans at CNM, and the majority of those will end up coming to UNM. And more are coming home every week.
Chances are you have a veteran in one of your classes. Many of these men and women served in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Now, they are transitioning back into civilian society and the academic environment. This transition is not always easy.
The halls of UNM are a far cry from the streets of Baghdad.
It isn’t possible to serve in combat and come out unscathed. Some veterans have visible injuries: wounds of the body. Other injuries are invisible: wounds of the heart, mind and soul.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the diagnostic term for the group of symptoms people have following emotionally traumatic events.
The symptoms include:
Having nightmares or unwanted thoughts about the event.
Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
Being constantly on guard, hyperalert and easily startled.
Feeling numb or detached from others and your surroundings.
The guy who sits quietly at the back of the room where he can see everything, jumps at sudden loud noises and leaves in the middle of class for reasons not apparent to others might be a student veteran with PTSD.
Or not. As I said, some wounds are invisible.
But be careful not to think of combat
veterans only in terms of their injuries. These men and women experienced things that enriched their lives and brought maturity and wisdom. They have seen the far reaches of the world, forged close bonds with others and discovered things about themselves that some take decades to learn.
Getting to know a person like this could enhance your life.
Civilians often wonder how to act around a veteran — what to say or do.
Here’s a simple piece of advice: whatever your personal political views are, whether you approve of the wars, you can appreciate these people’s hard work and the sacrifices they have made.
On Veterans Day, or any day, it’s always appropriate to say, “Thank you for your service.”
P.S. to the veterans: If you don’t already know about this, check out UNM’s Veterans Resource Center at 1155 University Blvd. S.E. Call 277-3181 or visit the website at vrc.unm.edu.

Peggy Spencer, MD, has been a UNM student health physician for 17 years. Drop your questions in her box in the lobby of Student Health and Counseling, or e-mail her directly at pspencer@unm.edu. All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous. This column has general health information only and cannot replace a visit to a health care provider.