heather gilbert slider

Student veteran seeks changes in wake of tragedy

in Campus Life by

A UCC student and former veteran is attempting to have legislation passed to help prevent veteran suicides. Heather Gilbert, who works in UCC’s Veterans Benefits Office began working on the bill in response to the recent string of suicides occurring throughout Douglas County.

heather gilbert portrait
Provided by Vaughn Kness The Mainstream

UCC Student Heather Gilbert offers assistance to veterans through the Veterans Student Center.Gilbert, who was previously stationed in Iraq, is deeply woven into Roseburg’s veteran’s community. After coming back from serving, Gilbert noticed the radical changes meant for a veteran’s life.

“You are different when you come back from Iraq,” Gilbert said. “You don’t know where to go [from there].”

According to Oregon.gov, an estimated 13,500 veterans reside in Douglas County. Oregon itself is home to nearly 174,000 veterans and is also ranked as one of the worst states for veteran suicides in America.
Oregon.gov also says that 27 percent of the suicides in Oregon are committed by veterans, which is a number Gilbert hopes to decrease, if even slightly.
The movement to create legislation began last month when Gilbert visited a family where a veteran father committed suicide. “It’s going to be called Londyn’s Law;
. . . that’s his daughter’s name,” Gilbert said. “So she can know her dad didn’t die in vain.”
Gilbert hopes the new law will bring attention to suicide rates among veterans, but her biggest goal is prevention. “He was one of three in the last ninety days, and we are going to change that,” Gilbert said. There is currently no set date on when the law will be completed or presented.
Besides this, Gilbert works to help veterans and connect them to others in need of assistance. Gilbert helps navigate veterans through aid from the Veterans Benefits Office, providing them with education on health benefits.
Gilbert knows the difficulties veterans face, as it is a problem she can empathize with. “It’s a pride thing, almost,” Gilbert said. “Who to ask … it’s like a benefit they’ve earned, they’re entitled to it, but they just don’t know how to get it.”
Gilbert is also involved in include a veteran advisers’ council and community-related programs where Gilbert and her team meet with local veterans for counseling and food. Gilbert also assists one-on-one with veterans and their families, which was how she was connected to Londyn’s family and their concerns.

“You are different when you come back from Iraq. You don’t know where to go.”
– Heather Gilbert

With many goals still to be reached, Gilbert hopes she can pass on her own wisdom on how to help those at risk. “Be aware of what’s going on in your surroundings,” Gilbert said. “Look at body posture, [and] if they’re stiff, how they’re breathing, [and if] they’re upset. Just show kindness; to be kind is to be free. Doesn’t take much to care and say let’s get you to someone.”
Heather Gilbert can be contacted at her email address:
heathergilbert229@gmail.com. She can also be found in the Veterans Benefits Center. For anyone in need of help, free counseling can be found on campus. Gilbert advises anyone needing assistance to speak to someone because it can mean a world of difference not just to yourself, but to everyone you know.

Revised February 23, 2016 -spelling error