2.4. Assess Your Needs as a Veteran and as a Student with a Disability
All schools offer support and resources to their student population, but these supports and resources are not created equal. You will need to spend some time assessing yourself and your needs both in terms of academics and general student-service areas and determine the school that best meets your needs. Some things to research might be the availability of academic tutoring, whether or not the school has veteran-only courses (if that is of interest to you), the reasonable accommodations process, health (including mental health) services, and career services.
a. Academic Tutoring
Many military students, upon entering college or other postsecondary institutions, find they may need tutoring and/or additional educational support outside the classroom. Many schools across the country are developing tutoring programs designed specifically for student veterans. Some schools will offer priority registration for student veterans who sign up for weekly tutoring sessions. Even if you are not sure you will need tutoring, find out what services exist, just in case. If you need more intensive tutoring services, you may be eligible to receive additional assistance from the VA to defray these costs. Tutoring can often be the missing link between dropping out and graduating.
b. Veteran-Only Courses
To help ensure that student veterans get off on the right foot when beginning the college experience, many schools are beginning to offer courses and programs specifically designed for veterans. Coursework can range anywhere from a one credit "introduction to the college experience" (where issues such as transition, leveraging benefits, and disability are discussed) to general requirement classes such as government/history, English, and math.
Servicemembers who attend college after leaving the military often report difficulty interacting with people who don't understand their experiences. Veteran-only classes can help students become well acclimated to college life. Schools are starting to provide these courses because they have heard that "fitting in" on campus is an important consideration for student veterans. Additionally, veteran-only courses often offer the camaraderie veterans miss and may likely translate into more positive experiences throughout a college career.
If you are returning to or entering college for the first time and have a newly acquired injury (physical or psychological health-related), you may have no idea if or how your ability to learn may have changed. This will be especially true if you did not experience any learning difficulties prior to your military service. Additionally, a veteran may be discharged from the military without realizing that she or he has experienced a significant learning or memory-related impairment, since a true diagnosis of post-traumatic-stress disorder, and in some cases a mild traumatic brain injury, can occur after the separation from service.
This is compounded by the fact that most student veterans will not identify as a "person with a disability" and are probably unfamiliar with reasonable accommodations and how to access them. While the document Accommodating Student Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was written for campus staff and faculty, it is definitely a worthwhile read for student veterans.
If you are experiencing learning challenges in the classroom or are fearful you might make it a point to meet with your professors or a veterans support representative at your school. All schools have an office called Academic Support Services, Disability Support Services, or something similar and their job is to ensure that accommodations to the learning environment are put in place to help students with disabilities (including student veterans) succeed in the classroom.
Examples of some common accommodations provided to students with disabilities in the classroom include, but are not limited to:
- Priority course enrollment
- Screen reading software programs or other special computer equipment
- Alternate formats for textbooks or other course material (e.g., books on CD)
- Extended time, readers, and/or scribes for exam taking
- Reduced distraction environment for exams
- Sign Language interpreting
- Computer Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART)
- Captioning of video material
- Peer note taking assistance
- FM systems (assistive amplification device) for lectures
- Preferential seating
- Use of word processor for exams requiring significant writing
- Considerations of alternate courses for foreign language requirement
- Permission to tape record classes
- Modification of seating, furniture, or class location to ensure access
d. Health and Mental Health Services
College can be a stressful time for many students but student veterans are more likely to be juggling academic work, home/family life, and a job all at the same time. While some of these struggles are not unlike what other non-traditional or adult students may be facing, veterans may be dealing with additional issues very much unlike their peers. While colleges and universities typically offer a wide variety of health and mental health services for their student populations (stress, anxiety, and depression are common issues), many schools are partnering with the VA and local Vet Centers for additional veteran-focused medical and mental health services.
Similar to the disability services discussed above, whether or not you think you need these services, it is your responsibility to find out what they are and where they are. Maybe you won't need these services, but a fellow veteran student may need help. Expand your knowledge about the health-related offerings on campus and who to contact.
e. Career Services
While it is not the responsibility of a university's career center to provide job placement services or make employment or career promises, it is generally understood and expected that networking opportunities and internship possibilities will be offered and promoted. That said, it is your responsibility to find out where the career center is located, find out what services they offer, and use these services to help you stand out. Networking classes are often offered, as are classes in resume development, interviewing skills, and more. University alumni often remain very committed and connected to the school and can be a terrific source for job leads.
f. Consider a VA Work Study
Eligible veterans, either full- or 3/4-time students in a degree, vocational, or professional program, can take advantage of a VA Work-Study Program, often referred to as an "Earn While You Learn" program. This program is designed to assist you (and the institution) both financially and professionally. Work performed must be related to the VA and can include, but is not limited to:
- Processing VA paperwork at schools or VA offices;
- Performing outreach services on campus, under the supervision of a VA employee;
- Performing services at VA medical facilities, other VA offices or state employment offices;
- Working in veterans admissions, GI Bill matters and/or as a peer navigator; or
- Making phone calls, sending emails, and welcoming new students to campus.
Most importantly, the work completed can be linked to your interests and abilities, and, of course, the type of work needed by the institution. The VA Work-Study Program allows for creative, fulfilling, and meaningful experiences for you and provides the institution with a knowledgeable and committed employee (you) for the institution.
 To be eligible for academic accommodations, you will need to provide proof of disability and make a formal request. If you're unsure how to do this, you can contact the school's Veteran Service Officer.