Examining Treatment-Seeking College Students with and without Military Experience and Trauma Histories

By Johnson, Matthew C.; Graceffo, James M. et al. | Journal of College Counseling, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Examining Treatment-Seeking College Students with and without Military Experience and Trauma Histories


Johnson, Matthew C., Graceffo, James M., Hayes, Jeffrey A., Locke, Benjamin D., Journal of College Counseling


An increasing number of veterans are returning from war, man/ with mental health problems. Some of these returning veterans will enroll in college, and it is important that campus counseling centers can meet the needs of this population. This study examined psychological distress among students with and without military experience. Results indicated that students with military experience showed elevated rates of hostility and family concerns. Clinical implications are discussed.

Keywords: returning military, Center for Collegiate Mental Health

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Since October 2001, more than 2.2 million military personnel have been deployed as part of the war in Afghanistan, referred to as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and the war in Iraq, referred to as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). These conflicts, the longest since the Vietnam War, have resulted in more than 6,500 fatalities, 48,000 injuries, and a new generation of American veterans suffering from psychological trauma and complex physical injuries (Frain, Bethel, & Bishop, 2010). With the passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act in 2008 and an amendment to the Americans With Disability Act, a large number of veterans are expected to pursue a college education. As veterans arrive on campus, the likelihood that some will seek counseling center services to cope with their wartime experiences increases. Although the number of veterans who will seek counseling center services is difficult to predict, researchers have hypothesized that the influx of returning troops may overwhelm the existing resources of many colleges and universities (Grossman, 2009).

This possibility seems to be increasingly realistic given the number of veterans receiving the Post-9/11 GI Bill is now more than 1 million (Jordan, 2013). Although not all postsecondary institutions have seen surges in attendance, the number of men and women with military experience entering into campus life has dramatically affected some geographical areas. For example, California, which has an estimated 2.2 million veterans, has seen the number of veterans enrolled in community colleges grow more than 70% since 2008 (Agaha, 2013). Additionally, colleges and universities located near U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) polytrauma centers also have reported increased enrollment rates by veterans with disabilities (Church, 2009). As U.S. military personnel levels continue to decrease in Afghanistan and Iraq, a greater number of colleges and universities are expected to face issues related to increases in veteran attendance.

Yet even with these actual and expected increases, there are many physical, psychological, bureaucratic, and social challenges that veterans must navigate in hope of being successful in postsecondary institutions. Current evidence suggests that on a macro level, these challenges are not being met, resulting in the lowest graduation rate of veteran students from 4-year universities ever. Whereas the national average for graduating from a 4-year university is approximately 57%, graduation rates for returning veterans from the same institutions rest at an estimated 3% (Aud et al., 2010; Cunningham, 2012).

Challenges

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been unprecedented in regard to what they have demanded from their all-volunteer personnel: deployments that are longer and more frequent with shorter recovery times, more involvement of women and personnel with young children, and an increased role for individuals within the National Guard and military reserve units (Institute of Medicine, 2013). Advances in military technology have allowed for many more physical and psychological injuries that would have previously resulted in a fatality. For example, in the past, military personnel hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) were likely to have died, but improved armor has reduced the number of fatalities caused by IEDs. …

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