St. Joe’s Offers Help and Education to Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life

St. Joe's Offers Help and Education to Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life The

For those of us of a certain age, the veterans returning from World War II were truly members of "the greatest generation." They saved the world. Many went on to college at no cost thanks to the GI Bill,  got married, bought homes and raised children who believed that America — and Americans — can do anything.

That American mindset changed with the Vietnam War and those that followed. We didn't "win" those wars and the scars of those conflicts are still with us to a great extent.

For people like Ralph Galati and Kevin Gelzhiser, dealing with the veterans of those wars (or "peacekeeping missions") is a challenge they face every day in handling "veterans services" at St. Joseph's University.

As Director of Veterans Services at St. Joe's, Galati brings an unusual resume to the job. A Weapon Systems Officer in an F-4 Phantom jet flying out of Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, his plane was shot down over North Vietnam in February of 1972 and he and his pilot spent the next 14 months as prisoners of war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton. He has the medals (The Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor, The Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and the Purple Heart) and the wounds that attest to his valor.

Gelzhiser's career includes degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and work with international organizations here and in Europe. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and has trained volunteers in providing services to wounded warriors and their families. He is about to complete his PhD dissertation  in the fall.

Following a career at IBM and SAP, Ralph Galati has been coordinating campus-wide programs for veterans, spouses, dependents and survivors at St. Joseph's University, whose campus now spans both sides of the area centered at 54th & City Line (Philadelphia on one side and Lower Merion on the other). It's a tough job for Ralph and challenging for the veterans who must adapt to civilian life with its different structure and behavior.

Many veterans have endured horrific sights, smells and the sounds of war and/or military combat, with hostile situations day after day for the duration of their tour or deployment. And some have endured multiple tours or deployments. Those experiences don't change when the veteran doffs his or her uniform for civilian clothing.

"The key to successful reintegration, including career direction, is to intercept veterans as soon as possible," Galati says. "But not every veteran is ready for the transition and that's just one problem among many."

Galati says veterans not only must adapt to the civilian world, they have to translate their military/combat skills into meaningful civilian attributes and reestablish themselves in a marketplace where they may feel left behind. And some employers can be overly sensitive to hiring them due to perceived problems in readjusting to civilian life.

Galati and Gelzhiser understand that. And St. Joe's program for veterans offers real opportunities to bridge the divide between the service and civilian life, including opportunities for cost-free education, career and personal counseling, and interaction with human resource organizations to help veterans with career searches. Galati says St. Joe's is ready to help veterans meet this challenge.

"But none of that matters if the veteran will not take the first step and meet with us to explore his or her options," he says. "And that is not only true at the university, but in meeting with those at the state veterans bureaus or contacting the Veterans Administration itself, which offers a wide variety of benefits and services not only to recently discharged veterans, but to those who served in previous wars.

"The bottom line," says Ralph Galati, "is that our veterans served honorably and sacrificed for our country. We owe them everything that is within our means to provide and for which they are eligible. They've earned it and it's our responsibility to reach out and let them know that we care."