Returning From Service: College and Careers for Veterans With Disabilities

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Tens of thousands of veterans returning to civilian life from recent conflicts have physical injuries (e.g., amputations, blindness, hearing impairments) and many more have sustained less visible conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury— which have been called "the signature injuries of the war." Many of these veterans have the potential for earning postsecondary degrees and filling positions in challenging fields such as those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

It is anticipated that an outcome of post-9/11 conflicts and the new G.I. Bill will increase numbers of veterans with disabilities on our campuses, especially two-year institutions. Student veterans face challenges that include social adjustments, financial burdens, and reluctance to disclose disabilities.

Participation in postsecondary education can play an important role in mitigating some of the effects caused by injury and trauma that result from deployments into conflict areas. Learning new things and developing career goals can help veterans look to the future with hope and excitement.

But how can postsecondary institutions best support veterans with disabilities on their campuses? This was the topic a think tank, a capacity-building institute, and numerous other events that were funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF). These events engaged faculty, disability services, and veterans with disabilities themselves. Topics discussed included

This publication synthesizes key issues to consider and interventions to explore that emerged from presentations and rich conversations at these meetings. It is hoped that this content will help postsecondary institutions make their programs more welcoming and accessible to veterans returning to school after sustaining injuries during service. The following content is organized around responses to key questions that participants discussed.

What are the unique issues facing veterans with disabilities with respect to college and career success?

Presenters and participants shared how veterans who are returning to school, especially those with disabilities, often

What interventions might promote the success of veterans with disabilities in postsecondary education?

Participants emphasized that grass roots efforts are important as well as those that engage high-level administrators who have the power to mandate policy changes. They suggested that the following interventions be considered to make the campus welcoming and accessible to veterans with disabilities.

Ongoing engagement of leaders and other stakeholders.

Recruit veterans with disabilities.

Support veterans with disabilities.

Develop and distribute information resources.

Train and support faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders.

Host veterans-related events.


Several resources evolved out of the discussions in stakeholder meetings focused on veterans with disabilities.

Veterans Community of Practice (CoP). A CoP for veteran stakeholder groups is hosted by the University of Washington. Communicating using email and other electronic tools, CoP members share perspectives and expertise, and identify practices to promote the participation of veterans with disabilities in postsecondary education and careers. Collaborators can also receive support from AccessComputing and AccessSTEM project staff in making their activities and resources more accessible (e.g., assistance in the design of an accessible website). Members

To join the Veterans CoP, send the following information to name, position/title, institution, postal address, and email address.

Video. The AccessComputing project created a video in which veterans with disabilities and postsecondary administrators discuss strategies for encouraging veterans with disabilities to pursue computing and IT fields. Returning from Service: College and IT Careers for Vets can be viewed or downloaded at

The Veterans Center Website and Knowledge Base. The Veterans Center website at includes resources for veterans with disabilities, faculty, and support staff; information on typical accommodations and universal design; and a link to a searchable knowledge base of frequently asked questions, case studies, and promising practices for fully including veterans with disabilities in programs and employment. Individuals are encouraged to learn from and contribute to this valuable resource.

Proceedings. To share findings with others, the following proceedings are available:

Guidelines for Conducting a Capacity-Building Institute. To conduct a capacity-building event on your campus or in your region, consult: Building Capacity for a Welcoming and Accessible Postsecondary Institution

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

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DO-IT Funding and Partners

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under AccessComputing grants #CNS-0837508 and #1042260, and AccessSTEM grant #0833504. Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Copyright © 2011, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.