What should I know about being a student Veteran?
Many Veterans decide to further their education after returning to civilian life. Whether you recently left active duty or have been a Veteran for many years, going to college after military service can be exciting and can present new possibilities —but it can also be challenging. For instance, you may sometimes find it hard to juggle the demands of school with other aspects of your civilian life. It may be frustrating to interact with people who don’t understand your military experiences. It’s important to be aware of the difficulties you may have to deal with — and the steps you can take to address them.
What types of issues should I keep an eye out for while in school?
Some student Veterans find that they have trouble with the topics covered in class. Although they understand the importance of these classes and the value of higher education, they may find that the content covered in class seems to have much less real-world relevance than some of the things they experienced in the military. The lifestyle and activities of other students who are not Veterans may seem trivial or like a waste of time. If you’re not relating to your classmates, it may make you feel isolated or depressed.
“While the other students in my class seemed to be focused on tonight’s party, I was thinking about being back in Afghanistan where I was part of something bigger. That’s when I reached out and found other Vets on my campus, which helped a lot.”
Alcohol and drugs are a frequent part of some college social scenes. If you drink or take drugs, you may find that your substance use begins to interfere with your grades, your work, or your ability to get along with others over time. The friends and social activities you choose will influence your behavior.
Some Veterans experience problems with memory or concentration. It may be hard to pay attention in classes, to focus on learning material, or to remember what you have learned for exams. If you have trouble sleeping, feel constantly on edge, or experience recurring nightmares or flashbacks of a traumatic event, this can make school even more challenging.
What can I do if I’m having a hard time going back to school as a Veteran?
Going from something familiar — like military life — to something new and different — like school — can be hard, but there are things you can do to make it easier. Try to remember to:
- Start with a few courses to ease the transition.
- Reach out to other Veterans on your campus for social support.
- Get to know your new professors, tell them you’re a Veteran, and ask for advice on how you can be successful in the classroom.
- When studying, take as many breaks as you need; find a study partner when possible.
- Take advantage of your school’s academic, tutoring, and academic counseling services.
- Recognize your own signs of stress, and look for daily ways to manage that stress.
- Exercise regularly and practice relaxation techniques to help reduce anxiety and improve concentration.
- Participate in student activities to break down barriers and become part of the campus community.
- Recognize that others may not agree with you or understand your military service; agree to disagree.
- Seek out social activities that don't revolve around alcohol and drugs.
- Be prepared for direct questions about your service, sometimes in very public, seemingly inappropriate situations; practice ahead of time how you would like to respond.
- Respectfully decline to talk about things that make you uncomfortable.
Your family, friends, trusted classmates, and professors can be a source of stability and support. Staying in contact with them may help ease the transition and provide you with a good source of feedback for your thoughts and concerns.
In addition to these strategies, you have strengths and skills that you learned through your military service and training. Using these skills also will help you address challenges and support your transition to higher education and campus life.
- You learned leadership skills and can lead by providing direction and demonstrating responsibility for others.
- You know how to set a positive example, while inspiring and influencing people with motivation and direction.
- You accomplished tasks and have been successful as part of a team.
- You learned to be flexible and adaptable to meet new and changing situations and environments.
- You learned to understand and solve complex challenges.
- You learned to treat diverse groups of people in the military with the highest level of respect. Your work with people of different backgrounds has prepared you to interact and work with anyone.
- You served in various locations around the world. Your experience and perspective can enrich any classroom discussion.
Take the next step to connect with care.
Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.
Read VA's latest coronavirus information. If you have flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, please call before you visit your local medical center or clinic. If you have an appointment, consider making it a telehealth appointment.
New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.
- Getting started is simple. Create a free account online to help ease your enrollment process. To prepare to apply for VA health care in person, by telephone, or by mail, explore VA’s “How to Apply” page.
- Not sure whether you are eligible for VA health care benefits? Read about eligibility for VA health care.
- Unsure of what kind of help you need? Call 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387) to find the right resources to meet your needs, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 1-800-877-8339.
- Veterans’ family members and caregivers can see whether they qualify for VA medical benefits as a spouse, surviving spouse, dependent child, or caregiver. Explore family and caregiver health benefits.
Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.
- If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
- With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers across the nation in all 50 states and US territories that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including counseling to eligible Veterans, service members – including National Guard and Reserve components – and their families. Counselors and outreach specialists, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief, and transition after trauma. To learn more, find your nearest Vet Center. Teams are also available 24/7 by phone at 1-877-927-8387.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.