We anticipate that over the next few years, there will be a continual increase in the number of veterans returning from combat services in Iraq and Afghanistan who will be using their veteran’s education benefits and enrolling at Texas State and other universities to begin or continue their education. Studies by the U.S. Army Mental Health Advisory Team and by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggest that somewhere between 11 and 17 percent of these soldiers will meet medical symptom criteria for acute war zone stress reactions to include depression, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in addition to social adjustment problems. Some other estimates are even higher. Many of these soldiers are from National Guard and Reserve units and therefore are anxious to separate from the military to return to school and civilian life. As a result, those who begin to experience symptoms while still in the military frequently avoid seeking help prior to their separation.
Many of these veterans will be returning from an extended period of exposure to severe emotional or mental trauma, hypervigilance, and highly stressful working and living conditions. Some may have experienced military sexual trauma. As they return to school, some may experience difficulty and frustration adjusting to the stress and demands of college life. Many may experience emotional and cognitive impairments that interfere with their ability to study, concentrate and perform academically. They may also experience family or interpersonal problems that affect social functioning. The added stress of social and interpersonal problems will also negatively affect academic functioning. They may communicate to you about their distress through direct conversation, in-class comments, or in written comments in their course assignments or e-mails.
Some returning veterans may be highly sensitive to political and other discussions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jackson and Sheehan (2005) have noted that some recent combat veteran students have reported feeling silenced and disenfranchised by political class discussions in which comments tilted in one political direction are made by students and professors who they believe are without accurate information. Class discussions regarding important political, social and personal issues should not be suppressed. However, in issues related to these wars, combat veterans students should be given opportunity to share their views and opinions based upon their experiences. Also, in discussions about the wars, it is important to include distinctions between political decisions made by government leaders and the experiences and efforts of combat soldiers.
Services for Returning Veteran Students
If you become aware of students who have recently returned from combat service and are having some difficulty adjusting to college, please refer them to the Counseling Center (512-245-2208). We are available to consult with you on how to refer a student to us. Also, please call and let us know that you have referred the student. Our role will primarily be to provide them personal support and to help connect them with the appropriate campus services and resources that can help facilitate their adjustment to the demands of college. For those veterans who are experiencing more acute PTSD and war zone stress reactions, or have experienced military sexual trauma and have more intense treatment needs, our primary role will be to help connect them with the medical and psychological treatment services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Returning veterans are entitled to free medical and psychological services, free of charge, from the Department of Veterans Affairs for two years after their return or longer if necessary. Texas State veteran students can contact one of the following facilities for assistance.
Central Texas Veterans Health Care System
Austin Outpatient Clinic
2901 Montopolis Drive
Austin, Texas 78741
South Texas Veterans Health Care System
7400 Merton Minter Blvd.
San Antonio, Texas 78229
Frank M. Tejeda VA Outpatient Clinic
5788 Eckhert Road
San Antonio, Texas 78240
Websites for each of these and other facilities are available through the Department of Veterans Affairs website, http://www.va.gov/. Click on “Find a Facility” and enter the local, Austin, or San Antonio zip code.
Jackson, Arthur J., and Sheehan, Jacqueline (2005) The Returning College Veteran: Challenges and Strategies. NASPA, Leadership Exchange, Fall 2005.*
* A copy of this brief article and a Combat Veteran Fact Sheet are available from the Counseling Center upon request.