Panel Discussion

Facilitator: Al Souma

Panel: Richard Douglas, Sandra Davidson, Doug Gannon, Jeremy Grisham, Manilla, Diane Martin, and Patty Sherman

What are your thoughts and experiences with college as a veteran or as a family member of a veteran?

Many veterans struggle with how to transition into civilian life when they return from service and may spend months or even years disengaged from civilian life. Often it takes a relative or friend to encourage a veteran to enroll in school and determine their career interests. The Veterans Conservation Corp helps many veterans get back on track with their lives and goals. The program creates a sense of belonging and purpose. PTSD may present difficulties for veterans and may require accommodations from faculty in the classroom. Some veterans may come to college with a misperception of the student population, thinking that the students are all young, liberal, pierced, etc. The military culture is different than the classroom culture. Veterans are trained to work as one unit with a clear and distinctive mission. Once in college, many veterans must learn to relate to peers and meet faculty expectations in a new way.

College is a whole new world for veterans and provides many options and directions. Campus bureaucracy can be overwhelming for veterans who are not familiar with the various departments, policies, and procedures. There isn't a main path that veterans may follow to get to college. Some stumble into it, some are encouraged to apply by loved ones, and others eventually find their way after spending time isolated and withdrawn from the community. It is not unusual for veterans to come from disparate populations and struggle with self-esteem issues. Veteran's military identity shifts once they leave the military.

What campus and academic programs, resources, and support services did you use or did your family member(s) use in the transition to campus life?

The most important support service for a vet is a welcoming environment. Veterans are sensitive to whether or not a school is veteran-friendly. In a non-veteran friendly school, vets may have to hunt for programs and assistance, the staff may have an uncaring and unresponsive attitude, and the atmosphere is not perceived as helpful or welcoming.

One support service that veterans may use more than other students is career services. Many veterans come to college because they are unable to do the professional work they did while serving in the military. Many do not know what they want to do in civilian life and require vocational guidance. Interest assessment tools, aptitude tests, or a career orientation class would be several possible options. Sometimes veterans also need help translating a skill they used in the military to civilian language for their resume.

From your perspective, what are two or three specific gaps in services or programs that impacted your transition or the transition of your family member(s) to campus?

Gaps in services and programs sometimes prevent a veteran from being successful on campus. Accessibility and assessment are important for closing these gaps. Veterans want colleges to have a safe entry point with accurate veteran related information available by knowledgeable staff. In the classroom, specific accommodations may be required. It is not always easy for a veteran to obtain medical documentation as quickly as required by disability support services (DSS) to receive accommodations. A vet might not tolerate standing in lines, loud noises, or a threatening environment. One best practice colleges can do is educate its staff, faculty, and administration on the after effects of war trauma and what services veterans may require. The college should be aware of issues that veterans face such as alcoholism, isolation, and transitional challenges facing the returning vet. One approach in working with a vet is to assist them in determining their career "mission" or goals.