Veterans face unique challenges while attending college

I am now about two years removed from graduate school. Including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, high school, undergraduate, and finally, grad school, I was in some type of educational facility for over 20 College for veteransyears of my life. I started in the fall of 1989, and finally graduated in the fall of 2011. We are talking about a “Simpsons” level of commitment here. I still get anxiety when fall comes around because I always associate that with getting ready for classes. I saw a school bus on my way to work today. The sight of it gave me chills. I never failed a grade before I went to college, so everything before then was legit. The reason I was in school for so long is that I lost my way in undergraduate school. I find that this is often the case with Veterans who are attending college for the first time after service. So, here are some tips for Veterans attending school for the first time.

First of all, when I say I “lost my way,” I don’t mean that I pulled a Lindsay Lohan. I actually had decent grades in school, but I just had trouble focusing on my college classes. I worked full time, was involved with our speech and debate team, and, like all young adults, wanted to socialize. Because of this, I spent over 7 years in undergraduate school.

With all of the issues I had in school, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for a Veteran. Add on top of that the issues faced with individuals who may be serving in the National Guard or a reserve unit of any of the five branches of the military, and my issues suddenly seem pretty petty. Luckily I don’t have to wonder too much. I happen to have one of best resources available to ask about this topic. I asked Air Force Veteran, and recent college graduate, Bill Lowther, to shed some light on the issues facing Veterans returning to school. Bill graduated earlier this year with his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. If you haven’t read my previous entries regarding Bill, he is a coworker of mine, and contributes to the blog on a regular basis. On a personal note, I also think he’s pretty cool.

So, I asked Bill what tips he could provide for Veterans attending school. Bill explained some things I hadn’t even thought of prior.

  1. A big suggestion is to apply to the school and to the VA well in advance of when classes actually start. Most of us signed up for the GI Bill while in basic training, but when you separate and want to use your GI Bill benefits, you have to apply to the VA and that takes some time.
  2. If you’re a veteran using Vocational Rehab benefits then it’s a little different. You have to apply for those benefits through the regional office in your state then take that paperwork to the Veterans service office at your school if they have one.
  3. As veterans we’re all really good at being on time so showing up for class on time shouldn’t be an issue. Be prepared. Get all your notebook and pens/pencils in advance.
    Coolest Dude Ever is now on the phone.
  4. Books are very expensive. If you’re buddies with any other vets see if you can wheel and deal on their used books if they’re the ones still being used. Some other ideas are local book stores that buy and sell college textbooks. Of course there’s always eBay, Amazon, etc. Only thing about buying your books from somewhere other than the school is you can’t do it if you’re using Vocational Rehab or financial aid.
  5. And be ready to deal with immature people. Colleges are full of young kids all the way up to grandparents so be prepared for that. A lot of people don’t get what it’s like to be a veteran so they may seem inconsiderate at times, just let it roll off your back.

I want to add one more piece of advice to what Bill provided for us today. Seek out other Veterans. Many schools have groups dedicated solely to Veterans on campus. Often the experience can be better if you find other individuals who have similar experiences and backgrounds as you. Plus, these groups have activities for Veterans to stay focused while in school, as well as fun events to help you get away from the stress of going to college. The school I attended has a big group dedicated to Veterans. They do whitewater rafting, community engagement and even go on camping trips.

Overall, college is a very stressful place. It’s not a battlefield, but it does present unique challenges that can be difficult to prepare for in advance. If you have issues with your GI Bill, or with the process as a whole, keep in mind that most schools have individuals employed who are in place solely to assist Veterans. Often times these individuals are Veterans as well, so they can relate.

Please note that you can receive VA disability while attending school. If you would like to know more about what VA disability options are available for you, give us a call: 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form to be contacted at a time that is most convenient for you.

Fight 4 Vets