Student veterans are a unique population who require a distinct set of institutional supports that other students may not require. It is the responsibility of universities to do their due diligence to research these supports, how to implement them, and ultimately how to better understand the students they serve.
Train all staff and educators in veteran culture.
The military is one of the most diverse institutions in American life, representing all ethnicities, educational levels, sexual orientations, religions, and political beliefs. But they all share a deep, common cultural identity as members of the military.
It is important to recognize that these students belong to a culture which greatly contributes to campus diversity. Training college staff and educators will dispel myths and stereotypes, enhance understanding and inclusion, and facilitate access to resources. Educators and staff will be better equipped to support veterans in their academic success.
This training should include basics of the arc of service, the culture and demands of service, common risk and resiliency factors, issues student veterans may face, and the availability and eligibility for campus and community-based supports.
Ensure that all faculty as well as campus staff who address education benefits and other financial aid, academic counseling, disabilities, and mental health issues receive training on veteran culture. Ensure these trainings occur particularly for new staff and faculty during onboarding. Online trainings are particularly helpful for those who have competing campus responsibilities. Even better, trainings can be done on a semester basis and can be a yearly requirement for staff to attend. Incorporating training goals into strategic plans also shows the college is dedicated to providing support to student veterans.
Partnering with the VA or a veteran agency to provide this training is key, but having VRCs provide training can also be a good way to increase communication between departments and better coordinate services.
Engage in outreach to incoming students early and conduct specialized outreach to specific veteran populations.
Engage in outreach to incoming students early and often. Deliver veteran-specific welcome materials outlining veteran services on campus as well as other services, including housing resources, disability accommodation, financial aid, peer mentoring, and tutoring.
While it is important to engage all veterans in services, specialized outreach should be targeted to those who are less likely to identify or seek veteran-specific services for fear of judgment or nonacceptance, such as women, those with less than honorable discharges, LGBTQ+ veterans, and veterans of color. Veterans should also be included in the characterization of nontraditional students, such as student parents, first generation students, older students, etc.
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Track veterans and dependent status at enrollment and throughout their college experience.
Schools should effectively track the number of veterans in their school beyond those who are receiving veteran education benefits and post these numbers in their materials so veterans can better understand the size and scope of their community in relation to the overall student body.
Colleges should know how many veterans are accessing services and should tailor outreach to engage those who may be struggling or those who are not receiving support. In addition, if veterans received a less than honorable discharge or served for a short period of time, they are not eligible for veteran education benefits (though they can receive other financial assistance). These veterans may need extra assistance in accessing services.
Provide transition assistance to the college environment.
Only 37 percent of postsecondary institutions with services for military and veteran students provide transition assistance. A “cold hand off” is typical of transition from military to student life. These students are left to discover for themselves where and how to enroll in college.
Schools that offer transition assistance are better able to identify veterans who may be entering a four-year university before they are truly ready, or those who are seeking to use their GI Bill benefits when it might not be the best time.
Without dedicated staff, student veterans do not have a direct pipeline into college, ensuring that they are meeting all the standards, and that they are easing themselves into a new environment. Connect with these students to provide an academic plan, help them process benefits paperwork, and ensure they are able to adjust to campus life.
Add veteran-specific materials and workshops to incoming student orientations to familiarize the overall student body with the campus veteran community.
Coupled with outreach, orientations are also vital. Veteran-specific orientations or break-out sessions for veterans during regular orientations can welcome student veterans properly. These sessions can provide details that may only be relevant to veterans about certifying officials, counselors, any veteran-specific organizations, and connections to the local veteran community.
Invite student veteran affinity group leaders, VRC staff, disability staff, and peers to these orientation sessions. Present not only the available campus services but also how they connect to veteran needs. Being able to partner with a local Vet Center and provide more resources specific to the area and not just the campus is beneficial. Present practical examples of disability accommodations for conditions common to service such as hearing loss, tinnitus, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
After orientation, continue to engage student veterans once they have entered college. Present to student groups, VRCs, classes, and at school-related events. Whenever possible, co-locate services by holding office hours at VRCs so veterans can access services from multiple departments easily.