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From Combat to College: Veterans Going Back to College Face Non-Traditional Challenges

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The Post-9/11 GI Bill and other college grants for veterans are allowing U.S. military veterans to go back to college affordably or completely free easier than ever before.

For some veterans that are now going to college, attending classes with students whose biggest concerns are which party to attend on Friday night and whether or not their term paper will get finished on time is a drastic change from going off to war and living the rigid military lifestyle.

College Grants for Veterans

According to The Washington Post, roughly 2 million veterans, many of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits that can amount to a full ride at college.

Veteran Students Faced with Unique Problems

Although some veterans think the transition from combat to college is fairly easy, it’s not uncommon for student veterans to experience feelings of isolation when they arrive on campus. Many feel like they have very little in common with their younger—and often social life-centric—classmates, and others become uncomfortable when well-meaning professors single them to ask their opinions based on their career experience or even request that they discuss their military service in front of the class.

“I would show up on campus, talk to absolutely no one and go home,” is how 27-year-old Army veteran Ben Miller described the fall of 2009, when he began attending classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “I didn’t feel like I really belonged,” he recently told St. Louis Today. Miller did three tours in Iraq as a counterintelligence specialist.

In 2009, then-25-year-old Paul Dolan shared similar sentiments with The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinal. “Just your age and the way you look. It makes you stick out,” the biology major and former Marine said. “You don’t meet many other 25-year-old sophomores.”

Health Issues Causing Learning Problems

“I felt like I was on another planet,” were the words of Brian Hawthorne, who enrolled at George Washington University in 2008 as a 23-year-old junior after serving two tours in Iraq as an Army medic. Veteran students are “going from an environment where people around you are dying every day and trying to kill you” to a campus where some people know little or nothing about the military, he told The Washington Post.

After he realized that he simply could not concentrate while reading his assignments, Hawthorne was diagnosed with a brain injury caused by being in close proximity to bomb blasts while he was in Iraq. Colleges and universities now have to deal with the often difficult adjustment process and serious health issues facing many student veterans, such as traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder related to combat.

Colleges Learning to Help Veterans Deal with Transition

According to The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinal, the University of Wisconsin-Madison hired an assistant dean of students for veterans in the spring of 2009 and an Army officer and historian was named to first chair in military history in 2008.

The Lake County News reports that California’s community colleges have become a common destination for new veterans that are seeking job training to enter the civilian workforce, and the California Community Colleges System held a day-long Veterans Summit to increase awareness for faculty, counselors and other employees about the issues facing veterans who return from active duty and enroll in college.

“Summit attendees will learn how difficult it is for many students to transition from the military culture and combat environment to campus life, how to recognize and respond to challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and how to make sure our student veterans are getting access to every resource available to them,” Chancellor Jack Scott said prior to the December 2, 2011 event.

Read More:

Student Veterans taking College Classes in Record Numbers

Colleges in Hot Pursuit of Military Veterans and High Profits

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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