As the war winds down, thousands of veterans are returning home each month andtransitioning back into civilian life. Part of this transition for many Veterans is going back to or starting college.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that some 1 million Veterans and their dependents have utilized their education benefits and enrolled in U.S. Colleges and Universities over the past four years. This influx of Veterans enrolling in college is a result of the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and a more generous education benefit with the enhancement of the GI-Bill in 2009, called the Post 9/11 GIBill.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill generally covers tuition, housing and books. With this influx of Veterans transitioning to student life, it is important to note the challenges Veterans may face and the resources available to help them overcome those challenges and succeed.
What are some of the challenges Veterans face when transitioning from military life to college life?
Some of the challenges Veterans have expressed in transition from military life to college life include:
• Missing the camaraderie and feeling of team and support they had in the service,
• Feeling misunderstood by faculty and classmates when dealing with physical, mental
and emotional effects of war,
• Being away from the school environment for so long they often need to sharpen or
improve their math, reading and study skills,
• Adjusting to cultural differences- a lot of their classmates are freshmen and away
from home for the first time where they are supporting a family and often working,
• Frustration in dealing with the backlog in receiving their VA benefits and ensuring their
education benefits are paid on time, and
• Coming from a regimented environment where orders were specific to an environment
where there isn’t much direction offered.
What resources do colleges and universities provide to help Veterans acclimate to college life?
Increasing numbers of colleges and universities are becoming more Veteran friendly and helping Veterans make the transition back to civilian life. This is being accomplished by:
• Instituting an office or department on campus dedicated exclusively to assisting
Veterans at colleges and universities. According to the American Council on Education, 700 colleges and universities surveyed responded that they have an office or department dedicated exclusively to serving Veterans- up 71% today from 49% in 2009.
• Organizing groups specific to Veterans such as Student Veterans of America, a group
for student Veterans on campus around the world which has expanded from less than
20 campuses to more than 880 in recent years.
• Offering courses exclusively to Veterans. Florida State University has seen an
increase of around 40% in Veteran enrollment from the previous fall. It now offers a
class called “Strategies for Veteran Success” designed to boost Veterans’ confidence
and introduce them to fellow Veterans. Florida State University also allows Veterans
to defer many school expenses while they wait for the VA to process education
• Offering college credit for military experience. The University of Missouri-St. Louis
(UMSL) is considering offering honorably discharged Veterans three credit hours in
leadership for skills learned in the military.
What is the VetSuccess on Campus Program implemented by the Department of Veteran Affairs?
The VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) Program was implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009. It started as a pilot program at the University of South Florida
with the intent of helping Veterans, service members, and their qualified dependents
succeed in pursuing their education goals and securing employment in a viable career
upon graduation. At the end of Fiscal Year 2013, there will be 94 VSOC sites located at
colleges and universities throughout the United States.
The VetSuccess on Campus Program works to coordinate delivery of on-campus
benefits and counseling to ensure Veterans succeed in completing their education
goals. This is accomplished by providing a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to
each VSOC school. Because VSOC Counselors are located on campus and are easily
accessible, they are in a position to better help resolve problems that could interfere
with a Veteran attaining their education and employment goals. VSOC Counselors also
provide assistance with disability accommodations and referrals for health services
through VA Medical Centers, Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, or Vet Centers.
Check out the VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) Fact Sheet to find your nearest VSOC
How can members of the student body best support Veterans on campus?
Most Veterans are just looking for an normal experience in their educational pursuit, but
may need some help in transitioning into student life. Some areas the student body can
help with are:
• Welcome the Veteran home and thank them for their service,
• Be patient as they transition to civilian life and offer to help with their campus
• Be supportive and listen,
• Recognize that most Veterans are disciplined, focused, motivated, leaders with lots of
experience to offer the student body.
Should I be aware of Veteran students suffering from mental health issues?
Yes. It is important to be aware of the warming signs of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS),
depression and suicidal thoughts in Veterans who experienced trauma in war and
combat so you know when to find help so the Veteran can begin to get well. Common
warning signs include:
• Feelings of hopelessness about the future,
• Difficulties in making decisions or focusing,
• Constant over-alertness or jumpiness,
• Rapid breathing and increased heart rate,
• Constant exhaustion and difficulties sleeping,
• Increased consumption of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or food,
• Feelings of numbness, sadness, fear, helplessness, or nervousness,
• Irritable or easily agitated, and
• Withdrawn, self-blame or negativity