Christopher Stanfield graduated EKU with a BA in Political Science, a Minor in Veterans Studies and a Certificate in Women and Gender Studies. He graduated cum laude and was a Class of 2013 Tillman Scholar. He has dedicated his life to professional and personal service to military veterans. He specializes in knowledge of veterans’ benefits, homelessness and employment services. He was the Founder and Campaign Director for “Stem the Tide Kentucky,” a grassroots effort dedicated to ending veteran suicide by educating the public and local officials about veterans’ issues. Currently, he works for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Military Services Coordinator.
What advice would you give to students considering a Veterans Studies Minor or Certiﬁcate?
I have yet to be interviewed by an employer who did not ask me specifically about my VTS Minor. It is usually the ﬁrst question asked.
Immerse yourself in the ﬁeld of veteran services while you are still in school. For example, you can use your VTS capstone and prerequisite courses to make a difference in the veteran community while you are still a student. Volunteer at the VA. Get involved with service organizations. If you are moving into a field that provides services to veterans, a Veterans Studies credential will set you apart.
Tell us about your background and what brought you to EKU?
I was born in Winchester, KY. The September 11, 2001 attacks happened during my freshman year of high school. That day fundamentally changed me, and I knew that the military was my next stop.
A month after graduating high school, I joined the US Army and became an Infantryman. I deployed twice to Iraq and left the service in 2009. After active duty, I transitioned to a National Guard unit in Ravenna, Kentucky.
During a drill weekend, we came to Eastern Kentucky University to use the ROTC facilitates. At the time, I thought college was a scary proposition. I pictured huge lecture halls and an environment that I wouldn’t succeed in. But something about that trip made me feel like college was possible. The campus felt inviting. I did some research and ultimately chose EKU because of its focus on veteran students.
What led you to Veterans Studies?
I had wanted to be History Teaching Major while still in the military. However, I found myself more interested in Political Science as I got into my coursework. At the same time, I knew I wanted to work with veterans. I’d started work on my initiative to help address the problem of veteran suicide, “Stem the Tide,” and soon found myself pursuing the Veterans Studies Minor. It was a natural complement to what I wanted to do.
What were some important concepts or lessons you took from the Veterans Studies Program?
Veteran Studies examines relationships between veterans and society on both interpersonal and group levels. I think these relational perspectives have benefited me the most. After all, Psychology and Sociology are key components of working in Veteran Services, and that is what I do now.
I would also say that understanding different perspectives by applying the concept of intersectionality to break down each veteran’s unique issues is a tool I use everyday. Intersectionality is a concept I learned a lot about in both Veterans Studies and Women and Gender Studies courses.
What has been your career path since leaving EKU?
During my last semester at EKU, I was hired by Kentucky River Foothills as a Case Manager through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant. This program was a housing initiative designed to reduce veteran homelessness in Central Kentucky. I quickly realized that I enjoyed the one-on-one connections with veterans I made each day.
Previously, I had thought helping people meant creating good policy. Foothills showed me my true purpose: helping individuals in a face-to-face environment and working with them to overcome difficult situations. This realization catapulted me into my career in social services. Eventually, I received an opportunity to work for the Kentucky Department of Veteran Affairs as a Veterans Beneﬁt Field Representative.
In 2015, I found myself moving to Ohio to be closer to my wife’s family. I was very fortunate to work for the state of Ohio as a Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialist. For three years, I helped veterans with disabilities and other employment barriers find careers.
My five-year goal after graduation was to earn a job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Finally, an opportunity emerged in the Veteran Beneﬁts Administration as a Beneﬁts Counselor. I held that position for a little over a year before being promoted to Military Services Coordinator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Tell us about your current work.
In my current position, I help transitioning service members navigate the VA benefits system before they leave military service. The rewarding part is helping them facilitate a successful transition to civilian life.
How might Veterans Studies help someone who wants to work in a career providing services to veterans?
A Minor or Certiﬁcate in Veterans Studies can really make a difference. Non-veteran students can develop an understanding of the issues veterans face. Even as a veteran, I quickly found that there was a lot to learn about veterans who had served in different eras or capacities than I had. It was also helpful as I processed my experiences during the transition to civilian life. Importantly, all students will learn ways to bridge the civilian/military divide regardless of their future career.