Sept. 30, 2013
The Colorado Springs Police Department responded to a report of a shooting in the 4700 block of Rusina Road on Sept. 13. Officers arrived to find a 27-year-old male dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman with CSPD, later confirmed the individual to be Eric Diederich.
Diederich was a grad student, attending UCCS in pursuit of a criminal justice degree. Hewas also a veteran, having served with the Army’s 7-10 Cavalry Troop in Afghanistan.
According to a 2012 Department of Defense report, data collected from 2010 indicates approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Many that return home have varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which “can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster,” according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Susan Diederich, mother of Eric Diederich, stated that her family was unaware if her son was suffering from PTSD. “We have a lot of questions and no answers.”
UCCS is home to more than 700 veterans, as well as many additional active duty military members and students relying on family GI benefits.
Phillip Morris, director of the Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs, said his office is working to promote awareness of PTSD and a cohesive veteran culture on campus.
“We’re making an effort to go beyond just processing,” said Morris, regarding expanding the duties of the campus VA office.
On Sept. 27, the Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs launched its new military awareness program, the Veterans Education and Training Program (VETS).
VETS is aimed at teaching faculty about veteran-centric issues. Faculty who complete the training will receive a sticker to place on their office door to indicate PTSD awareness.
Morris also indicated the campus VA office includes information about counseling resources available on and near the university in new student orientation packets.
Morris stated Diederich did not interact with the campus VA office outside of normal enrollment processes.
When asked how Morris, also an Army veteran, would personally deal with another veteran who approached him with PTSD concerns, he said he would “definitely try to make sure they had all the resources available to them.”
Benek Altayli, director for the university Counseling Center, indicated there are both group and individual therapy sessions available for veterans.
“If there is demand from veterans, we are set up to do that,” said Altayli.
She estimated there are 10-20 veterans currently attending individual therapy and none in group therapy.
“It may not be a clinical setting veterans are drawn to,” said Morris. “It’s more of an informal peer-to-peer thing that’s effective.”
Jorge Arredondo, president of Student Veteran Organization, indicated his organization provides “social networking and social support” for veterans.
The SVO is the UCCS chapter of the national organization Student Veterans of America, which focuses on providing support for student veterans.
Steve Linhart, dean of students, acknowledged a lack of “formal programs” designed specifically for PTSD. He did, however, refer to several resources available to all students, including the Student Response Team.
The function of SRT is to coordinate on-campus resources for students in “crisis situations.”
Linhart, along with Altayli and Clay Garner, the UCCS police operations lieutenant, comprise the core of the SRT.
“Whether it’s PTSD or any crisis, we want to get to the students and see how we can assist them,” said Steve Linhart.
Another resource available to veterans is the Mobile Vet Center. The MVC is on campus the first Tuesday of every month and is parked in the loading dock in-between University Center and Kraemer Library.
Despite being inoperative for several months, the MVC is functional and next slated to be on campus Oct. 1.
While the university has made advances in PTSD resources, some in the Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs feel that not enough has been done to promote the issue.
According to a June article in the Colorado Springs Business Journal, UCCS received a $2 million grant from philanthropist Lyda Hill to build a Veteran Health and Trauma Clinic. The article also indicates 18 percent of El Paso County residents have served in the military.
Charles Benight, director of the university’s Trauma, Health and Hazards Center, stated the facility will open in February or March of 2014. Benight will be the chair of veteran health and trauma at the new center.
Despite the increasing number of resources available on campus and in Colorado Springs, many feel that open discourse is the first line of defense.
“He [Diederich] didn’t disclose that he was having trouble,” said Morris. “I wish we could have helped.”