Published on 2013/04/12

Psychological Invisibility: Veterans in Higher Education (Part 1)

Psychological Invisibility: Veterans in Higher Education (Part 1)
Military veterans face a number of challenges when returning to society, and when these individuals enroll in higher education institutions, the institution must have services designed to meet those challenges.

Postsecondary education is currently at a crossroads between good citizenship and stewardship of providing access to those who have served in the military, and their families. Simultaneously, we are being required to conduct a critical exploration of emerging themes of this diverse population, causing us to apply a multicultural lens to a growing student body.

We should not be surprised to see the increase of “student veterans” given the continued efforts to improve educational benefits for these students even during times of budgetary constraints. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, higher education mirrors the military in its robust structural makeup with a clear chain of command, language and positions such as the Provost, which denotes head or chief (a term utilized in Shakespeare’s Henry V). Therefore, now that we have emerged and are invested in student veteran success — emphasis on student veteran — we need to explore what’s next. In a 2013 report published by Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), a national association, four emerging themes or myths have been brought to our attention:

  • Myth #1: Student soldiers and veterans have lower success rates than other adult student populations.
  • Myth #2: Student soldiers and veterans are less well prepared to succeed in college than other adult student populations.
  • Myth #3: Student soldiers and veterans are resistant to support.
  • Myth #4: Student soldiers and veterans are proactive and direct in expressing dissatisfaction with their educational experience.

In featured articles and literature on veterans transitioning into higher education and back into society, similar concepts have been weaved and, therefore, instead of repeating what has been presented in the past, I would like to use this forum as an opportunity to explore and present a topic that has not been addressed and that requires a new frame of thought. My colleagues and I, in the book titled A Handbook of Military Social Work (2013), state that veterans have a distinct culture comprised of their own values, a culture defined by the traditions and spirit of the corps, with an emphasize on the unit and not individuality, a focus on chain of command, orders (given and received) and a higher sense of purpose. This “spirit of the corps” requires us to take individuals from unique backgrounds and, through an extensive process (boot camp), mold them into what the Army prefers to call “Army of One” or “Once a Marine Always a Marine;” however, we have failed to ask: at what cost?

In thinking of this homogenous makeup or a common assumed value, we have dismissed the possibilities of psychological invisibility or conceptual identity redevelopment. Psychological invisibility can be defined as a syndrome created by the perception of an individual who may feel depersonalized and overshadowed by stereotypical assumptions and prejudices — which often plagues our veteran population with subjugation of stigmas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury. This crisis may be more damaging than what we think and Williams (2013) states that psychological invisibility may be the catalyst for:

  • Isolation
  • Loss of Self
  • Depression
  • Lack of Trust — and some cases of PTSD
  • Lack of Attachment
  • Loneliness

Please come back next week for the conclusion of Jose Coll’s series on better serving veteran students by understanding their identity and needs.

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Readers Comments

Alicia Ramos 2013/04/12 at 7:01 am

Our government has taken a positive first step in terms of President Obama signing an executive order to protect the rights and enhance the opportunities of service members in their educational pursuits. However, an EO is only good insofar as it is backed up by additional resources. We need to invest more in research into the unique needs of student veterans and into training for college support staff and faculty. Plain and simple.

Jennifer McMenemy 2013/04/12 at 12:48 pm

What Coll suggests for addressing the needs of student veterans is, in reality, the same for students across the board: individualized support. Now, that support may look different for student veterans — and this is where specialized training for support workers plays an important role. I read Coll’s Handbook of Military Social Work and found it quite helpful in identifying the unique military culture he discusses in this article and the corresponding behavioral challenges it brings up. I recommend it for anyone working with student veterans, but also active military service members and their families.

Kevin Wilson 2013/04/13 at 8:02 am

This article is a reminder that we need a new way of serving student veterans. It’s not enough to simply offer them access to the same resources as other students. Schools that understand this have started to offer student veterans their own set of support staff, trained to address their specific issues and, in some cases, veterans themselves. In order to best serve those who have served our country best, we need to — like Coll says — adopt a new way of thinking about what “military friendly” means.

Chance 2013/05/09 at 12:15 pm

I love these comments. I have worked for a for profit online university as a military specialist. This university, Kaplan University did some unethical business tactics to get all military enrolled, especially with the veterans and dependants. I had several hundred students, in which I treated uniquely ans personally. The re- entry process they put them thru was extremely stressful and degrading. By degrading I mean, the process was set up for them to fail after funds, where accepted. They stressed them out by making them do certain admissions steps that took months, sometimes years. I can go on but it wouldn’t be worth the argument and I have to much respect for our military, since I come from a Marine Corp family. I will say this, when my team would go up and beyond to assist our military students we got in trouble?? I personally got laid off due to my work ethic and love for my career in Higher Education. Please feel free to contact me so I can feel better and get some sleep!! KU, is seriously wrong and their strong arm business tactics towards our military students has to stop! For-profit schools don’t care about anyone but their bottom line, and what amazes me is some of my superiors in my department were military? That hurts!!

Jose E. Coll 2015/01/25 at 9:41 pm

If you are seeking a new book that explores our responsibility and role in supporting Veterans in Higher Education then you may be interested the forthcoming “Supporting Veterans in Higher Education” which has been written to be an essential text that draws attention to the unique needs of student veterans and how they can be enabled to achieve a successful transition from military to civilian life. This book explores effective ways of advising student veterans, learning the behavioral health factors that affect academic success, building supportive communities, and much more.

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