Facilitators and Barriers Faced By Student Veteran Population Upon Transitioning From Military to Academic Life

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Brittany M. Gannoe, BSN
Barber Behavioral Health Institute, Erie, PA, USA
Heeyoung Lee, PhD
School of Nursing, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Purpose: As a result of the Post-9/11/2001 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008 and the benefits and financial assistance it offered to those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, approximately half a million Veterans, National Guardsmen, active-duty personnel, and reservists used military education benefits to attend college and have difficulty in reintegrating their life to academic settings due to multiple deployments, a constant risk of injury and death, and repeated challenging homecoming transition. The present study explored the experiences of the student service member and student Veteran population upon transitioning from military life to academic life.

Methods: Recruitment was achieved through the dissemination of a flyer by a university’s Office of Veterans Services on their website, their Facebook page, and emailed through their listserv. Additionally a Facebook boosted post advertising campaign was ran which reached approximately 1,600 targeted Facebook profiles containing the key terms “Veteran” and the name of the university. Word of mouth was also utilized, as well as an in person recruitment event at a Veterans meeting. This study made use of a qualitative interview with a structured interview guideline. Audio recordings of interviews were transcribed verbatim though the use of software (i.e., Soundflower 2.0b2 and Audacity 2.1.0) and then proofread line by line by the primary investigator for accuracy. The interview data was coded using thematic content analysis as outlined by Graneheim and Lundman. Meaning units were extracted and categorized into condensed meaning units, subthemes, and themes. Any discrepancy about code and themes were discussed and refined in order for mutual agreement.

Results: Six participants were recruited. All six participants were white males. They were between the ages of 25 and 40. Branches of service represented included Air Force (n=1), Army (n=2), Coast Guard (n=1), Marine Corps (n=1), and Navy (n=1). Years of service included 1-4 years (n=2), 4-8 years (n=2), and 12-16 years (n=2). College majors represented were Nursing (n=2), Public Service (n=1), Informational Science (n=1), Natural Science (n=1), and Administrator of Justice (n=1). 79 meaningful text units were described by the participants. Five major themes of facilitators were identified. Themes included social relations, competence, cultural accommodation, communication, and opportunity for personal growth. Four major themes of barriers included cultural differences, academic challenges, isolation, and juggling school and life.

Conclusion: The findings of this study provide insight into unique experiences beyond what would otherwise have been ignored. In particular, cultural differences need to be acknowledged and addressed in order to encourage student service members and veterans to adjust to academic life. Participants’ military-related experience such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury impacts their ability to balance their life and academic work. Therefore, student service members and Veterans may benefit from specialized academic and institutional services and supports to address aforementioned barriers. The need is presented for larger and longer studies in order to better inform policy regarding the challenges faced by the student service member and Veteran population.