Most student veterans have known some form of trauma during their military service, from losing friends to being injured themselves. So says a new recent report, developed through the University Veterans Coalition to provide a frame of reference for better understanding and appreciating what student veterans bring with them to the campus community.
“The State of Student Veterans in the Nevada System of Higher Education” reviews a survey conducted with student veterans at seven NSHE institutions, including the University of Nevada, Reno. The report was developed by Marta Elliott, associate professor of sociology, with the assistance of graduate students and the support of a research grant from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
The report’s data and recommendations are already helping guide the work of the University Veterans Coalition, which brings together University of Nevada, Reno Veteran Services’ staff, students and faculty to support the transition of student veterans to and through college. And, the University’s selection as one of 20 colleges and universities nationwide to receive additional resources through the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) pilot program is hastening the progress.
Through the VITAL program, two Veterans’ Administration employees are now based on campus. Alison Pratte, a licensed social worker, and Adam Cress, an outreach technician, join the University’s Office of Veteran Services in providing services for up to 500 students who are military service members or veterans. They are also available to support student veterans at Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College.
Cress explained that the VITAL program focuses on four areas: reducing or eliminating stigmas, the transition from being a service member to being a veteran, academic leadership and empowerment.
“We are addressing issues such as school adjustment as well as personal, financial, academic or social issues which may affect student veterans’ education, collegiate success and path to graduation,” Cress said.
The effort dovetails well with “The State of Student Veterans in the Nevada System of Higher Education” report, which touches on a number of issues for those who served, including their military experience and combat, their mental health and care, their physical health and care and other aspects of their lives outside of college. Marta Elliott, associate professor of sociology and lead author of the report, believes it paints a picture representative of colleges and universities across the country.
“We found more than half of the student veterans feel they do not fit in and are unfairly judged, particularly when military operations are discussed,” said Elliott, who also chairs the University Veterans Coalition. “A fair number are uncomfortable in certain settings such as crowded classrooms.”
The report notes that most veterans enrolled as students in NSHE institutions are faring well and need not be singled out as having special needs simply by virtue of their veteran status. However, the survey, which was completed in 2011, also identifies a portion of student veterans who are struggling. Elliott describes them has having “suffered the injuries of war.”
“Through the survey results, we are able to identify our target population who really most need assistance,” she said.
“What’s happening on our campus is a reflection of what’s happening nationally with these non-traditional students, and we’re asking how we can better prepare to help them,” said Terina Caserto, director of the University’s Office of Veteran Services. “With the VITAL grant, we are now better positioned to become more veteran friendly.”
Veteran Services offers a number of programs that reflect the recommendations put forth in the report. For example, to help veterans integrate with campus, the new student orientation program now includes a veteran-military component, education on veterans’ benefits and resources has been expanded and effort is being made to strengthen the Wolf Pack Veterans student organization which is a chapter of the Student Veterans of America. The office recently partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the local National Guard and other local organizations to host the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair at the Joe Crowley Student Union.
Looking ahead, planning is underway to identify an eventual on-campus space dedicated to student veterans for meetings and interaction. Pratte and Cress are helping develop a new peer mentoring program that will begin in early 2013 and a new faculty awareness program is being developed at Western Nevada College, with plans to expand it to the University.
Gregory Adams is a 42-year-old returning University student and veteran, majoring in political science and minoring in economics, and is the newly elected president of Wolf Pack Veterans. He looks forward to providing more awareness of the services provided by the VITAL program and other veteran resources on campus.
“We want recently returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and dependents of veterans to feel comfortable in the college community,” he said. “We want student veterans to have an impact on campus and in the Reno community by getting involved with service projects, events, listening to guest speakers, and just hanging out and swapping stories. Comfort is largely built on social aspects.”
When it comes to supporting the academic success of student veterans, the report notes a role for all on campus: “The university community can assist student veterans and increase their likelihood of success in college by being welcoming of them, and acknowledging their service.”
“I think we as a society are responsible for helping veterans heal, readjust to civilian life, and make sure that any wounds of war that they bring home do not hinder their chances for success in their personal and professional lives,” said Elliott. “This applies well in the university setting where we advocate to make sure that student veterans have an equal opportunity to succeed in college.”
“Our veterans have given much to our country, and for those that join us as University students, we have the opportunity to give back to them and be part of their future success,” said University President Marc Johnson. “It is an honor to have them as part of our community.”
For more information about the University Veterans Coalition and to see the full report on the state of student veterans, visit University Veterans Coalition website. For more information about the University’s Office of Veteran Services, visit Office of Veteran Services website.
Check out the 2012 Veteran's Week activities and promotions.