The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is one filled with nostalgia, holiday traditions, and social gatherings. As the decorations go up around campus and the rush is on to complete the semester’s requirements, some individuals (students and faculty) may feel isolated or excluded from the season’s festivities. While this can be a stressful time for anyone, this time of year may be incredibly lonesome for veteran students. In 2018, Forbes reported that over 2.77 million service members had served in over five million post-9/11 deployments. The presence of American military members in hostile fire zones formally ended with the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Still, millions of veterans carry lasting scars from their service to our nation.
The stressors of end-of-term papers and exams combined with the solitude that some student veterans face during the holidays make them more likely to succumb to the perils of suicidal ideations as their non-military peers. Additionally, those with combat deployments have an increased likelihood of suicide compared to those without deployment experience. Many military members are accustomed to operating within close-knit communities wherein individuals hold shared experiences based on their military service. Additionally, some, unfortunately, associate the fabric of their being with the rank, position, and titles held during their time in the military, which further complicates their transition from the service.
Remembering bonds cultivated under the worst circumstances in some of the world’s most austere environments are some of the dearest memories for many veterans, particularly the celebration of holidays and other critical celebratory days such as birthdays and feats of achievement. One of my most memorable experiences in uniform has been spending time with members of my unit while stationed in Korea. Although I was a junior soldier at the time, I took great pride in preparing a meal for approximately forty individuals. The first sergeant and commander paid for all the food and decorations out of their own pockets and spent most of the day in the barracks forging bonds that strengthened their positions as caring leaders. It is crucial that faculty and administrators recognize signs of depression and increased anxiety in members of the veteran student population.
Even after identifying the precursors to a depressive episode, what can you do to assist?
1. Identify Peer Mentors for Student Veterans
Institutions can keep a standing list of veterans willing to serve as mentors to new veteran students. These individuals can act as liaisons between the student and employees of the institution’s veterans assistance services to connect them with provided services. Additionally, the mentor can support the new student with integrating into campus life by introducing them to people they know, attending events with them, or by simply providing opportunities to connect with other veterans at the school.
2. Green Zone Trainings for Faculty and Staff
Additionally, Green Zone training is a beneficial tool to assist faculty and staff in educating the institution’s employees on military culture, customs, and traditions. Understanding veteran influences and behaviors can assist university workers in assessing these individuals’ motivations to keep them engaged and feeling part of the university community.
3. Create an Involved Veteran Community
So, what is the benefit of having an involved veteran community? An involved veteran student population provides a group of individuals with a history of service to the nation and to those around them. They offer a seasoned perspective that is often more insightful than their younger, less worldly peers, who are often only a few years removed from living with their parents. These veterans have endured some of the most challenging environments, giving rise to critical thinking skills and, in many cases, a sense of purpose. Educational institutions can benefit from using their expertise in planning campus events, student associations, and among the general student population.
The holiday season is a time to reflect on the previous year’s happenings, manifest the great things to come, and be grateful for what has been given and future opportunities. On the heels of Thanksgiving and in anticipation of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah, we must all take time away from our daily activities to evaluate the welfare of those within our social and professional circles. Take the time to make an impact by ensuring the well-being of your student population, and you shall reap real and perceived benefits.
Disclaimer: HigherEdMilitary encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and don’t imply endorsement by HigherEdMilitary.
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