Some Thoughts on Working with Student Veterans from #NASPA14

I learned a lot regarding student veterans and what we, as student affairs professionals, think of student veterans. I tried to live-tweet and take notes during the student veterans sessions. There was one session in particular that I realized the people doing the research had no idea how to work with veterans and were desperately scrambling for any theory they understood. They found a fantastic lens to look at the veteran population, but they decided to jam the population into a theoretical framework that just didn’t work (in my opinion).

One of the best presentations I attended was by Eric Wheeler, who works with the Academy for Veterans Success at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. One of the main take aways was that each campus has a unique population, and what works for one campus may not work for another. You can’t take one program and just plop it down on another campus and expect it to magically work. Veterans have one thing in common: they served in the military. That’s it. That’s where the similarities may end. There are different kinds of officers, different branches, different jobs, different bases, different parts of the world, different types of separations, and many different trainings. Lots of differences. Lumping them together by saying thing like “they are always on time” or “they are always clean” or “they have good leadership training” is just bad practice.

What does “Veteran Friendly” mean? Is it just a label? Is it checking things off of a list? Is it the community that forms and the word of mouth that spreads among the military community? Is it using a specific program or having a specific space? Is it completing the certification reports to process GI Bill funding? When you go to a campus website and there is a button specifically geared toward veterans or military personnel, what does that link contain? Does the college follow through on the promises contained in the link? Is there an actual person to contact? A training available for faculty, staff, and students? Is there a way for veterans, military personnel, or military families to reach out for help or support? Is there a culture where asking for help is encouraged? Is it a culture of military acceptance? Is it simply a marketing scheme?

Disabilities, PTSD, and TBI can all be hidden identities. Don’t assume anyone has them or doesn’t have them. Don’t assume those categories define them, their families, or their needs. Again, each veteran is an individual and deserves to be treated a such.

Here is my promise to the veterans I will (hopefully) work with in the future:
  • I promise that the possibility of you having PTSD or TBI does not scare me
  • I promise that I will not lump you together with those of other branches or demographics, you are a unique person, regardless of the military being part of your identity
  • I promise that I hold no preconceptions about what you are capable of simply because of what you did in the military
  • I promise that I understand there are multiple branches of the military, that each one is unique, that there are different ranks and MOSs.
  • I may not understand what you have done, continue to do, have seen, or experience daily but I promise that I will work hard with you to help you succeed
  • I promise that the university’s/college’s/campus’s idea of success will not hinder me in helping you achieve success, in whatever way you view success

    (I've been sitting on this post for a few days now and realize this is a promise we should make to all students. Each student is an individual and we need to remember that on a daily basis)


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