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Facilitating College Success for Veterans

Returning veterans face a variety of issues that may or may not affect their transition and success in the academic environment. Veterans bring military experience and combat training that can be positive assets as well as challenges. Facilitators should help veterans explore and identify how these experiences are a source of personal strength and psychological resilience. These skills should be recognized and channeled towards the formation of adaptive and productive attitudes and behaviors to promote success in the academic environment:

Challenges that create barriers to academic success:

  • Those returning from active duty in a combat zone almost have all been ambushed, attached, shot at, and know someone who was seriously injured or killed.
  • One in six Iraq veterans has had post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, or generalized anxiety.
  • One in nine Afghanistan vets has experienced PTSD, major depression or generalized anxiety. Because PTSD alters brain processes, it affects learning and memory.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury and Mild traumatic Brain Injury are the “signature” injuries/disabilities from the current war. Modern medical advances mean more with severe damage live.
  • Veterans with disabilities have a hard time admitting they are disabled and asking for accommodations since they see themselves as warriors.
  • Ex-military men and women have a difficult time relating to their campus peers’ everyday concerns and issues after being in a combat zone.
  • Readjustment issues with families and coworkers are common, since deployment disrupts the structure and continuity of family and work units.
  • Returning vets are used to clear protocols and designated chains of command. They may have a low tolerance for bureaucracy, indecisiveness, or lack of structure. In the campus environment, rules may be unclear or change from setting to setting, there is a lower sense of order, and bureaucratic problems often arise. These difficulties can create anxiety or frustration for many veterans.
  • Soldiers can get used to the “adrenalin high” of being in a combat zone and dealing with life and death situation. So they may find the pace and content of college life to be boring, trivial, or frustrating.
  • They may feel guilty about something they experience or had to do during deployment (e.g. injure or kill someone, be unable to prevent the injury or death of a friend or comrade, accidentally hurt a civilian, be ordered to do something they felt bad about, etc.)
  • They may attempt too many credits in a term to make up for lost time, leading to failure.

Student Academic Success

  • Veterans have been trained to work with many different kinds of people, often in a group environment. They know how to get a group to focus on the tasks assigned and use the strengths of each member of a group.
  • They have developed strong habits of self-discipline.
  • Many are adept at managing their time as they juggle jobs and family as well as school.
  • They are focused on their goals and may not have time or inclination to take part in extraneous activities.
  • The educational experience is highly valued and they want to take full advantage of the opportunity for a degree.
  • Their past experiences provide a broad background that they bring a new knowledge and their world view is more global then the average college student.
  • Through their military training and travel, they may have discovered interest areas that can lead to a career or vocation.
  • Previous experience have given them confidence as they have persisted over many obstacles to be where they are today.