It is difficult to serve a veteran population's specific needs if you don't know which of your applicants or enrolled students are actually veterans. Including a question on all campus admissions forms (including graduate programs) can be very helpful in following up with veterans as they progress through school. The phrasing of the question, however, should be given careful consideration.
Not all veterans of the armed forces identify themselves as "veterans" (particularly women, National Guard and Reserve members, and those who may not have experienced combat). Asking "Have you ever served in the United States Armed Forces?" rather than "Are you a veteran?" may have a large impact on the number and accuracy of responses you receive. In addition, many of today's schools are also asking follow-up questions to include branch of service, current Reserve or National Guard status, and a question identifying military families.
Regardless of how the question is asked, it is important to let the student veteran know why you are collecting information on veteran status. Explaining that this will help keep the student in the loop with regard to veterans-only events, updates to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and other benefits will demonstrate your commitment to communication.
Use the information collected to make initial contact with entering veterans through email, text messages, and/or a phone call. Although there can be a lack of interest from student veterans regarding activities and events, particularly at institutions with high commuter populations, transition and isolation were cited as two of the greatest barriers to success for veterans in the ACE Veteran Success Jam report.
Identifying and tracking veterans and establishing an open line of communication are the first steps to addressing these barriers – and in building strong communities on campus. Surveying student veterans before, during, and/or at the end of a semester will offer you timely information as to what is working and what is not. Consider using a VA Work-Study student to communicate the importance of collecting information from veterans.