Most veterans with service-connected disabilities, or those wounded during their time in the service, do not readily identify with the term “disabled.” For a variety of reasons, it is generally difficult for veterans to acknowledge that a disability might be hindering their potential to perform to the best of their ability, in school or anywhere else.
Other factors impact a veteran’s willingness to seek disability services, as well. For example, those who incurred injuries in a noncombat environment may be reluctant to talk about their conditions because they perceive it as shameful. Further, veterans with acquired injuries are not likely to have progressed through the K-12 education system with an individualized education program and are therefore unlikely to be aware of disability resources available to them.
Other veterans may not yet have a disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and they incorrectly assume that this disqualifies them from services. (Disability ratings, in fact, are not qualifiers for campus disability services.) For all of these reasons, bringing disability services, education, and awareness to the attention of student veterans is critically important.
Since seeking support through your institution’s disability services office will most likely not be intuitive for a veteran who has been recently diagnosed with a disability, it is important to communicate the purpose and availability of disability services to student veterans at multiple times and in a variety of places. Also critical is communicating to veterans why they might want to take advantage of these services; that is, why these services might pertain to them (both academically and when focusing on the transition from school to career).
Most veterans will have a very limited understanding of academic accommodations and the reasonable accommodations process, and they will not understand their rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. But if accommodations are needed for success in school, they will likely be needed in the workplace as well.
During the ACE Veteran Success Jam, one college administrator recommended including information on veterans services and disability services on the course syllabus. Another participant pointed out that veterans often have to wait months for a VA appointment, and they can’t simply reschedule if it conflicts with class. Although the responsibility for informing faculty about these appointments lies with the student veteran, flexibility, and understanding on behalf of the professor goes great lengths in reducing stress.
For many of these reasons, some schools have identified a staff person with ties to the military to act in a connective role between the office of disability services and a veterans program office. Interestingly, one institution changed the name of its disability services office to College Access Services after staff discovered veterans were not self-identifying or requesting services because the term “disability” carried a stigma.