Greetings Region IV-W! My name is Jennifer Goetz and I’m your Veterans KC representative, working alongside the Veterans KC to support military-connected students pursuing higher education. I serve as the Veteran Student Services Advisor at Washington University in St. Louis. I am passionate about student veteran leadership development and how it fits into our campuses. We have an opportunity to tap into the strengths and skills of our student veterans in ways that positively contribute to campus life and to their personal and professional growth.
Student veterans, those who have served in the military regardless of deployment status, combat experience or legal status (Vacchi, 2012), are returning to higher education in the U.S. at unprecedented rates due to increased pathways to education through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The new Forever GI Bill further expands this access to groups who previously did not have access or had limited access to educational benefits, including but not limited to Purple Heart recipients, surviving spouses and children, and certain Guard and Reserve servicemembers. Additionally, the Forever GI Bill removes the 15-year time limit to use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for certain servicemembers and their dependents and also increases benefits for students pursuing STEM degrees. These changes will drive an increase in the number of veterans on U.S. campuses in the coming years, providing us the unique opportunity to identify their growing needs now and determine ways to best support them academically, socially, emotionally and programmatically.
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University reports that 84% of U.S. veterans who transitioned or were transitioning into higher education felt there was a place for veterans’ leadership, achievement and excellence on campuses, but that only 53% believed that colleges and universities recognized the specific strengths and skills veterans brought to campus from their military service. Skills that translate well from service include leadership and management, work ethic and discipline, teamwork, resiliency, entrepreneurship, social and communication skills, adaptability and mission focus. Furthermore, a report on the Veterans Civic Health Index indicates that military service positively affects civic health and that veterans return home from service to strengthen their communities. Not only does veteran leadership positively contribute to campus and community life, but it also helps veterans maintain their identity and sense of purpose as they navigate civilian life and attempt to negotiate new post-military identities.
Campuses benefit from the diversity of background and perspectives student veterans possess. It is important for campuses to serve as spaces that actively bridge the civil-military divide—the disparity between the experiences of those who served in the military and those who never served. Creating space for student veterans to share their perspectives and leadership skills in classroom settings and across campus aids in their reintegration, supports their transition to civilian life, and educates non-veteran students, faculty and staff about the experiences and challenges of military service.
With all this in mind, how can we support our student veterans and promote their leadership development in meaningful ways? Here are 5 key ways to start:
- We can encourage them to connect to Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA recognizes student veterans as “yesterday’s warriors, today’s scholars, and tomorrow’s leaders” and supports them throughout their educational journeys through scholarships, training and leadership development, research, an annual conference, networking, career opportunities and partnerships with veteran-friendly employers, and through their advocacy and protection of the GI Bill.
- When we learn of veteran status, we can challenge the student to become engaged in our student veteran association, if there is one, or other student government activities. If a student veteran association does not exist, we can present this as an opportunity for the student to take an active leadership role in creating one.
- We can identify key resources for student veterans and know where and how to refer. Campus veteran coordinators and centers are a good place to start if they exist on campus. If there is no dedicated veteran point of contact, school certifying officials for Veterans Affairs educational benefits can help us learn more about our student veteran populations.
- We can ask student veterans to lend their perspectives and expertise to demystify military service and to destigmatize the perceptions that exist about veterans. Opportunities such as hosting student veteran panels, Veterans Day events, and other activities that bring civilian and military populations together go a long way toward creating community and building trust.
- We can promote and build connections amongst our student veterans and between our veteran and non-veteran community members. While this article and the Veterans KC are primarily focused on those who served and are serving in the U.S. military, student veterans also include our international students who served in their home countries, as well as Canadian Armed Forces veterans who are reintegrating into campuses within our own region (in Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and across Canada. We can capitalize on students’ strengths to find meaningful ways where they can become engaged and take active leadership roles to build these bridges and create more inclusive campuses for all student veterans.
I am excited to serve in this role and to learn more about your work with military-connected students. If you’re interested in becoming involved with the Veterans KC or would like to learn more about supporting military-connected students on your campus, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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