Three Tips for Supporting Veteran Students

NEED A MORE ADVANCED APPROACH?

If your institution is in the earliest stages of investigating how to better assist this student population in the college transition, this February 23, 2012 article (below) will help you with:

  • Some initial practical steps that you can undertake with minimal resources
  • Advice for phasing your effort from a very small and informal start toward a funded position

For more advanced strategies, read our previous article “Helping Veteran Students Succeed” (featuring recommendations from Don Pfeffer, director of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Higher Education Veterans Programs) for tips on:

  • Establishing a veteran services center
  • Clarifying veterans benefits
  • Reviewing academic policies to ensure they don't offer unnecessary impediments to veteran student success

With more veterans returning from overseas and looking to transition into college classrooms, the question of support services for this growing student demographic has received more attention recently, and the challenges veterans face in transitioning to campus are becoming more well-known. This week, we asked several experts on veteran student services what items they considered top priorities for institutions at an early stage of planning to offer more comprehensive student services to veterans. Among the top answers:

  • Assign a single point of contact
  • Tap into a broad range of resources in order to maximize support at low cost
  • Consider hiring a full-time veteran services liaison

A Single Point of Contact

Brenda York, director of the Disability, Re-Entry and Veteran Services Office at Montana State University, suggests that the single most important (yet often neglected) move institutions can make is to identify a single point person to handle inquiries from student veterans and route them to the appropriate resources.

“Veterans in transition are used to the military way of life,” York notes. “They’re used to living and operating in a structured environment with clearly defined roles, rules, and channels for communication. This is what’s most difficult about transition. You need a single resource, a liaison who can connect them with the necessary offices on campus and walk them through the checklist for an application process or a financial aid process, rather than shifting them around through the phones system or making them walk repeatedly across campus to visit different offices.”

Let veteran students know the one person or office they can contact that can help them connect with other units across campus and help complete critical tasks.

Tap into a Broad Range of Resources

What if your institution has very little formally in place to provide discrete services to veteran students?

Even if you don’t have a veterans services liaison or a veterans center on your campus, there are several steps you can take to start small and build up. York advises:

  • Start a veterans advisory group on your campus –- perhaps a faculty member, a financial aid officer, and two veteran students who meet monthly to share challenges they see veterans experiencing across campus, and to brainstorm initial steps to assist.
  • Second, start building a resource sheet or booklet that can be provided to veteran students. This could start as simply as locations and phone numbers for critical offices on campus (admissions, financial aid, disability services), or could include a variety of resources. Where can a veteran student go for assistance with time management skills, study skills, or test skills? Where should they go to seek a tutor? This booklet can serve as a “Veteran Students’ FAQ.”
  • The advisory group needs to reach out to offices on campus. Invite admissions and financial aid officers out to lunch, and discuss setting up a two-way referral system. The advisory group needs the numbers of staff they can refer veterans to within these offices if veteran students approach the advisory group with particular questions. You also want the campus offices to know that they can refer veteran students to the advisory group for additional resources.
  • Many local communities have a veterans group. Brenda York’s office has phone numbers of local veterans who can reach out and act as mentors to students who are finding the transition to campus challenging. Besides assisting students, in many cases this effort also serves to get non-student veterans more engaged in their local community.
  • If there isn’t a local veterans group, consider starting one -– in much the same way you would start a veterans advisory group on campus. For example, reach out to the veterans services provider for your county, the veterans representative for the local employment office, and a counselor who works with veterans. “Offer to buy them lunch,” York suggests, “and meet to talk about the student veteran population and what resources you can each provide to each other.”

Ultimately, effective veteran services has less to do with a dedicated staff and a dedicated budget and more to do with establishing an effective network. The core ingredients are an understanding of the challenges faced by transitioning veterans, a single point of contact for veteran students, and the extent to which that contact person can pick up the phone and call in others from the community to assist in meeting a student’s need.

TAKE THE NEXT STEPS

Read our previous article “Helping Veteran Students Succeed” for tips on:

  • Reviewing academic policies to ensure they don't offer unnecessary impediments to veteran student success
  • Establishing a  veteran services center

Consider Hiring a Full-time Veteran Services Liaison

If your institution anticipates a growing demographic of veteran students and has made commitments to do more to serve them, and is in a position to dedicate dollars and staff toward veteran student success, a full-time veteran services liaison may be a critical investment. For a checklist of qualifications to look for, we turned to Jeremy Glasstetter. A US Army Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and past national president for Student Veterans of America, Glasstetter currently serves as the Military and Veterans Program advisor for Baker College Online and Baker Center for Graduate Studies.

Glasstetter suggests the following hiring considerations, beyond education and veteran status:

  • Whether they served in combat (If not, is the liaison’s approach to building relationships to the combat student veteran population clear and intentional?)
  • Familiarity with the voluntary education system used by each branch of the military
  • Familiarity or understanding of the VA benefits systems (including disability and education benefits, as well as community-based resources and home loans)
  • Familiarity with national support systems for veterans such as Student Veterans of America, Veterans Upward Bound, SALUTE Veterans Honor Society, and the American Council of Education’s Veterans Toolkit
  • Understanding of the organizational structure and processes of the institution (In other words, are they able to navigate among often-siloed offices to help transitioning veterans access the resources they need swiftly and efficiently?)