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The Life of a Student Veteran on a College Campus: A Student Veteran Perspective

by Joshua Lang, Student at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

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The transition from the military to a college campus for me was very daunting and I really didn't know what to expect. What would life be like on the outside? How would I relate to other students as I began college? The first several months of my college career I was trying to find the sense of purpose that I once had when serving my country and found it difficult to find information and relevant resources for my individual need. Being an older student also made it difficult to relate to the traditional college-aged student.

To address some of these concerns, student veterans from across the country have created Student Veteran Organizations (SVOs) on their campuses to provide the peer-to-peer support that is missing when they begin their college career. Over 600 SVOs across the country have become affiliated with the national umbrella organization of Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA is a coalition of student veterans groups that provides the grassroots level on campuses to help ease the transition of veterans into campus life and succeed. The mission of SVA is: "To provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation" (Student Veterans of America, 2012).

For the last decade, higher education institutions have worked with their student veteran population to address some of the challenges that veteran and military students face, as well as my own university at Shippensburg. Through the experience that I have working with colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation I have come to the realization that in order for college campuses to develop successful veteran support networks a task force or a steering committee is a must.

However, for the task force to be sustainable, colleges or universities needs to receive top-down support. The task force is usually comprised of members from academic and administrative departments, veterans, and members of the community. The task force plays a pivotal role for addressing the issues and concerns that veterans face and then providing recommendation to begin fixing the problems that exist. Some other areas that the task force can address are veteran recruitment efforts, admission procedures, faculty understanding, outreach programs, transfer of military credit, and getting called to serve due to military mobilization policies.

College campuses have increased focused support, developed programs to aid in the transition process, and have streamlined resources for veterans. For example, college campuses have developed veteran specific orientation programs that reduce the confusion of veterans when they begin college. The objectives of these orientation programs are to facilitate the transition of veterans into college, connect incoming veterans with existing veterans, and connect veterans with on- and off-campus resources. Some of these resources can include veteran specific scholarships, access to veteran healthcare, employment opportunities for veterans, family assistance, and other veteran service organizations in the area.

A long-term goal that SVOs may have is to advocate for an on-campus veterans resource center. These centers fully integrate all facets of student veteran support services, state and federal veteran programs, and student veteran organizations in one location. Furthermore, the centers usually encompass work study students and a veterans services coordinator or director.

The goal of opening a resource center may not come into fruition for a couple of years, but if the task force can successfully work with their veteran students, a successful support network for veterans is still possible. A great resource for campuses to use is the American Council on Education's Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions to learn how to design and implement effective programs for veteran students and share information (American Council on Education, 2012).

Although there are several colleges and universities across the country supporting veterans, there are still veterans that are struggling to achieve their academic goals on other campuses. These campuses need to recognize the unique lifestyle and leadership experience that they will bring to the campus. When veterans are supported they will be empowered to succeed in the classroom and following graduation. It is easy for schools to say they are military and veteran friendly, but it is another to show what programs and services they are providing to these students that address some of the challenges they may face.

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