Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

From the Battleground to the Classroom

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

From the Battleground to the Classroom

Article excerpt

Thirty-three percent of the two million-plus U.S. combat veterans who served in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according a RAND Corp. study cited by reporter Gregg Zoroya in an Oct. 5. 2009, article in USA Today. And as of last fall, more than 300,000 former soldiers and their dependents attend American institutions of higher education, Lisa W. Foderaro writes in a feature for The New York Times on Jan. 8 of this year. Enhancements in 2008 to the G.I. Bill, which provides educational benefits for those honorably discharged from the armed forces, are predicted to lead to a 20 percent increase in veteran enrollment over the next two years, notes Jay Rey in a May 2, 2009, report for The Buffalo News, referencing findings from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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As a result, many onetime military men and women face a new battle when resuming their studies: acclimation. And schools must help them recover their educational mindsets.

Undergoing academic reconnaissance

"For now, most of the students' problems relate to adjustment, anxiety and stress," Foderaro states in her New York Times article, "From Battlefield to Ivy League, on the G.L Bill." She quotes the executive director of counseling and psychological services at Columbia University who says that PTSD typically involves a '"symptom cluster"' including flashbacks, hypervigilance, avoidance and numbing."

Indeed, for one student, a 26-year-old Air Force veteran, every time he goes near a refrigerated soda case, "the squealing door reminds him of the whistle of a Katyusha rocket," Foderaro writes. He sits in the front of the class because of hearing loss from repeated exposure to mortar fire. He prefers hanging out with other veteran-students. When a professor in a course on comparative politics showed a video of the Iraqi electoral process, a split second included the explosion of a roadside bomb, and the student, shaking, flashed back to duty in Baghdad.

Veteran-students "are bringing to the esoteric world of academia the ballast of the most real of real-world experiences, along with all the marks of the military existence, from crew cuts to frayed nerves to a platoon approach to social life," Foderaro states.

"It's a growing discussion, now that colleges are bumping into some of the particular needs facing veterans," Rey observes in "War Veterans Face Unique Adjustments to College Life," for The Buffalo News. "Some are disappointed to find they're not getting credits for their service. Some are older and need more flexibility to juggle school with work and family. Others struggle with the adjustment from soldier to student."

Deploying mindful solutions

To address such issues, "Universities are creating classes to train students in how to treat combat veterans and their families suffering from war-related mental health problems," Zoroya writes in "More Colleges Develop Classes on How to Treat War Veterans" for USA Today. "As psychologically wounded troops return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the initiatives range from workshops to semester-long graduate courses."

Zoroya references University of Southern California's military social work program that offers a degree emphasizing treatment of veterans; University of Washington-Tacoma's new graduate course, Social Work with Military Personnel and Veterans; and University of South Florida's four-course graduate certification program in military culture and counseling. …

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