Whereas academia may view the veteran population as a single entity, it is actually one of great diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, and physicality/disability. Although a great deal of attention has recently focused on service members and veterans who are transitioning to higher education, many policies primarily geared toward veterans can allow sub-populations of veterans to fall through the cracks. These sub-populations include, but are not limited to military or veteran families, women veterans, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
Institutions of higher education should be aware of how local deployments may affect not only veterans and service members but also their families. Families are often the biggest support system for a veteran. Oftentimes, it is the family member who encourages a veteran to seek out a benefit, ask for help, or get treatment. As one veteran said during the ACE Veteran Success Jam, “The spouse can be the squeaky wheel and really encourage the vet to seek help.”
Many resources can be found through local student veteran organizations, but sometimes there is a gap between veteran organizations and family members. Institutions of higher education can keep military spouses and families on their radar by partnering with Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs and local National Guard and Reserve unit offices. Offering weekend or evening support and information classes for spouses of student veterans and spouses of those deployed can go a long way toward demonstrating a cohesive and supportive higher education community.
Further, because of the transferability of the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and how spouses and dependents can utilize these benefits, the number of family members using education benefits will only increase in the foreseeable future, and they may deal regularly with extenuating circumstances during deployments, family adjustments, and recovery processes.
Child care can also be a frequent factor in education decisions when one or both parents are attending classes and also serving in the military. A veterans’ program initiative can play an important role in not only helping military families navigate the college experience, but also indirectly providing valuable support to the veteran by supporting their network—their families. An example of effective family outreach is a picnic with child-centered activities.
Women veterans may deal with different issues than men when deploying and reintegrating and, therefore may have unique needs on campus. Often times, women of the Armed Forces do not consider themselves “veterans,” so resources designed for women veterans (such as those for mental health and sexual assault) that are posted in areas beyond a veterans office on campus may be more likely to get their attention.