What are the unique needs of veterans with disabilities with respect to college and career success?
To address the unique needs of veterans with disabilities regarding college and career success, Think Tank participants suggested that we do the following:
- Address cultural issues (Latino and Native American populations were specifically discussed) and establish partnerships with these groups.
- Understand the differences between the military, higher education, and the corporate world (e.g., translate resumes into language that works in the corporate world, use strengths-based assessments of skills, address differences in supervision and hierarchy).
- Address the knowledge gap that many veterans and veterans' service providers face regarding the use of assistive technology.
- Connect veterans to services, especially once they are off-base, and help them deal with feelings of stigma and isolation.
- Provide hands-on learning concurrent with academic educational opportunities. Find ways to connect with homebound veterans and their caregivers/families.
- Engage spouses and families in the college and career support process.
- Address the cost-of-living problems returning veterans with disabilities are facing that may impact their ability to attend school.
- Educate schools, outreach agencies, and veterans about psychological issues that many veterans experience after exposure to traumatic events.
- Address specific issues experienced by females who are veterans.
What interventions might contribute to their success?
The following interventions were identified during the meeting:
- Mentoring programs specifically for veterans, families, and service providers.
- Regional Capacity-Building Institutes to identify strategies related to supporting transition from active duty to education and careers.
- Faculty training at a college that can be replicated and shared with other colleges in our region.
- An online Community of Practice for those who serve veterans and their families.
- Publications, videos, and/or websites that support educators, service providers, employers, veterans with disabilities, families, and other stakeholders.
Several members of the Think Tank emphasized the importance of having veterans, with or without disabilities, available to mentor veterans with disabilities. They felt that having mentors who are veterans with disabilities is ideal.
Bringing activities to veterans was also perceived as a promising practice. Providing interventions in hospitals, on military bases, and in local communities was identified as a high priority.
What might we build into our grant proposals to support veterans in their pursuit of college and careers? How might we work together?
It was suggested that opportunities for mentoring would be of high value to veterans, their family members, and professionals who provide services. Various models were discussed such as the DO-IT e-mentoring programs and the AcademyWomen E-Mentor Leadership program (www.academywomen.org). The anonymous nature of electronic mentoring may be of particular value for veterans who are in need of support but are isolated or hesitant to engage with professionals face-to-face. The group identified logical avenues to market e-mentoring opportunities to veterans such as Stars and Stripes, military base newspapers, newsletters at treatment facilities such as Madigan Army Medical Center, the Veteran's Business Owners registry, reaching out through spouses and families, and tapping into communities of ethnic groups.
Regional Capacity Building Institutes (CBIs)
Think Tank members agreed that a one or 2-day CBI designed to bring together key stakeholders would be of high value. Invitees would come from a large geographic area and from many different areas of service provision. The CBI could develop working drafts of training materials, improve collaborations among stakeholder groups, build the Community of Practice, and identify ways to recruit veterans and families into e-mentoring and other services.
Offering faculty training sessions to Seattle Central Community College that include members of the Think Tank was discussed. The goal would be to provide content to faculty in several modalities (presentation, slides, written materials, etc), and then package the content into publications and web resources for distribution to a large number of other colleges in our region and nationwide. The primary objectives of this training would be to provide faculty with an overview of the unique cultural and identity issues often expressed by veterans as well as teaching and communication strategies appropriate for this population.
Community of Practice (CoP)
Think Tank members discussed the development of a "Serving Veterans CoP" made up of veterans with disabilities, service providers, and volunteer mentors. Initial membership would be the Think Tank participants, with ongoing recruitment of others. The CoP will maintain contact primarily through an email distribution list. The CoP members will share common concerns in their practices and interact regularly to improve service to veterans with disabilities and their families. They will identify problems, goals, and resources; assess change; form collaborations; and monitor and adjust plans and activities. Some initial ideas that the CoP can address were identified: placing veteran representatives on college campuses, creating linkages between community colleges and 4-year colleges, using corporate affinity groups as a model for developing projects, providing faculty training, creating an e-mentoring community, exploring creative solutions for home-bound veterans, finding avenues for civilian certification to quantify military competencies, and identifying models for career development (e.g., Northrop Grumman's Return to Work Program).
Campus Connections and Student Groups
Think Tank members suggested that campus Disability Services Offices would benefit from activities that connect them with programs and resources designed to improve services to veterans with disabilities (e.g. campus office of veterans affairs). Such connections would help Disability Services staff improve outcomes for veterans with disabilities on their campus. The development of student groups on campuses made up of veterans was also identified as a valuable intervention.
The need for publications, web pages, and presentation materials for all stakeholder groups was identified as a priority by Think Tank members. Existing materials can be linked from a website. New materials can begin to be identified and developed through the CoP and at CBIs.
Who are the key stakeholder groups and necessary partners?
Key stakeholder groups include veterans with and without disabilities, their families, college campuses, vocational training programs, government programs, employers, and service agencies. It was determined that in the Pacific Northwest, there are many organizations that can be invited to collaborate on activities proposed by the Think Tank. A partial list generated during the discussion includes:
- Bates Technical College
- Fort Lewis Army Career and Alumni Program
- Hire America's Heroes
- NW Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America
- Pierce County Heroes at Home Seattle Central Community College
- South Sound Women's Business Center
- Tacoma Vet Center
- University of Washington DO-IT Center
- University of Washington Office of Business Services and Veterans' Affairs
- Veterans Outreach for Training and Education
- WA Department of Veterans Affairs PTSD Program
- WorkSource Washington
How should members of the Think Tank proceed in working with stakeholder groups?
The first step is the development and distribution of the proceedings from this meeting. The next step will be to implement the CoP as a forum to discuss and plan specific activities mentioned above (e.g., launching e-mentoring, planning a CBI, offering a faculty training session on a college campus, developing resource materials).