Veterans’ unique experience and knowledge can be a valuable asset to the diversity and depth of an institution’s culture. The military develops a focus on mission accomplishment and teamwork that is not easily lost. Individuals often bring a strong commitment to standards, demonstrated through punctuality, respect and meeting expectations. However, there are some barriers that can challenge veteran students. As an educator, these are a few suggestions for how you can assist.
Barrier: Student veterans often have difficulty relating to the average college student. Often they are older, have families and adult obligations, and have adapted a unique worldview based on their background and experiences. Veterans can easily feel isolated and that they do not fit in with the campus environment and culture.
What the educator can do: Create a safe and respectful learning environment. As for any student, a classroom that is appreciative and welcoming fosters learning and success. Be mindful that some veterans prefer to not disclose their service history and be a topic of class discussion. Developing a personal understanding of military culture (read more) can improve your ability to connect with veterans.
The Learning Curve
Barrier: Although learning and education are core components to a military career, it may have been years or decades since the veteran wrote a paper or tackled math equations. Sub-standard writing skills, memory problems, and concentration problems are not necessarily indicators of low aptitude or work ethic.
What the educator can do: Be prepared to direct students to appropriate resources to improve attention, memory and basic study skills and time management. Useful resources include: the writing lab, disability services, tutoring and the Student Assistance Program.
Barrier: It is important not to assume that all combat veterans suffer from mental health conditions. Physical injuries are not always apparent and invisible combat injuries can be debilitating and more difficult for the veteran to disclose. These injuries can have a marked influence on cognitive skills and interpersonal relationships.
What the educator can do: Be aware of array of combat injuries – including PTSD, TBI, depression, and anxiety. Keep in mind that most veterans do not want to be seen as victims and will not readily divulge this information. Include contact information for special accommodations and Veterans Services in your syllabus (learn more about making your syllabus veteran friendly).
Barrier: Many veterans are transitioning from a very familiar, well-structured world to one of apparent chaos. In a world where following standards can mean life or death, seeing a fellow student stroll into class 15 minutes late can incite a strong emotional reaction. Service members take their work seriously and can feel disoriented when standards are not enforced or when left to create their own structure. Conversely, the urgency to complete assignments with tangential “real-world” applicability may hinder motivation for other veterans.
What the educator can do: Be clear and verbalize “unwritten rules.” Start on time, consistently enforce standards and be aware that this can be a source of discomfort for some veterans. Recognize that students may have personal or academic difficulties in their transition process.
For many veterans, school is the first of many steps in the transition to civilian life. As educators you are in a special position to mentor and facilitate the reintegration of the young men and women back into society where they can continue to serve their community. The most effective support does not exist in a vacuum – it is accomplished through open dialogue with colleges, veterans, faculty, staff and external agencies. Take the time to become familiar with your local resources including: student services, the veteran services coordinator, the Student Veteran Organization (SVO), disability services, the Student Assistance Program and other local resources in your community. Most importantly, take time to get to know the veteran as an individual.
Veteran Connection blogs are written by ACI’s very own Clinical Specialist, Megan Hawker, MA, IMF #65325; Major, Medical Service Corps; US Army Reserves