For veterans, there is more to retiring from active duty than stepping out of uniform. Picking up a civilian life can be especially difficult for those who have experienced multiple combat tours.
In a Military.com article, Navy veteran Joe Gomez recalls the frustration of having to run around campus to register for classes, arrange financial aid and attend to other enrollment details. The article notes that Gomez “spent six years learning about ballistic missiles as a submariner, but received only a week of Navy training to prepare him for his return to the civilian world.” While the college runaround may be a normal part of acclimating to student life, some military veterans could use the extra support.
Fortunately, universities and colleges are stepping up to the challenge of assisting veterans as they assimilate into both family life and school, providing services and support systems designed specifically for those who have served in the military.
Designing Services for Veterans
Here are four ways in which higher education can make a difference in the college experience for veterans:
- Veterans center – Feeling isolated, having difficulty with the campus culture and trouble relating to younger students were named as challenges faced by veterans returning to college. Kathy Snead, director of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, recommends an organization or office designed specifically to help veterans adjust to campus life and feel more engaged and connected.
- Financial aid expert – The GI Bill application process can be frustrating and tedious. Colleges and universities serious about attracting veterans will offer knowledgeable assistance on financial aid available from the first day of orientation until graduation.
- Faculty and staff training – It is essential for faculty and staff to understand that ex-military students frequently face special circumstances and issues that do not affect the majority of younger, civilian students. Examples include post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities, and re-assimilation with family and friends. Mandated training for all employees is a step toward ensuring veterans feel understood and appreciated.
- Partnerships with community organizations – When the university veterans office partners with veterans associations in the community, it can provide students with a one-stop resource for information about clubs and activities designed for them. The same is true for local counseling and therapy services.
Become a Leader-Advocate for Veterans
A Peterson’s article quotes Don Accamando, Director of the Office of Military and Veteran Students at Duquesne University: “Unfortunately, veterans are not always comfortable seeking help — that behavior is contrary to the warrior ethos.” It is therefore imperative that schools make intentional decisions to address the specific needs of people who have spent considerable time in military service, proactively offering assistance without requiring formal requests.
Creating space for veterans at the university level does not happen by accident. It takes strong leadership with intention and a willingness to invest in the future.
William Paterson University offers substantial support to veterans, active-duty service members and military families. In addition, WPU has developed a master’s degree program that prepares graduates to serve in a variety of positions in higher education. With this background, they will be equipped to make decisions and implement policies to support and engage military veterans, both socially and academically.
In WPU’s all-online Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in Leadership Studies program, you will learn how to create transformative environments that provide meaningful educational experiences for veterans and their families.