We are here to help you understand and relate to Veterans.
There is a growing number of students at the University of Illinois that are military-connected. Unlike traditional students, military-connected students may exhibit higher levels of maturity, discipline, leadership, and judgement. They also face different challenges than their younger peers–from tending to the needs of a family, commuting longer distances, or adjusting to life after service. While they may face challenges similar to other non-traditional students, they encounter an added dimension related to their Veteran status. Despite these differences, military-connected students are as capable and motivated as traditional students and they bring unique and rich experiences to your classroom.
These resources can help faculty and staff members enhance their understanding of the various components of the military and outline relevant policies and procedures affecting student Veterans and military-connected students at the University of Illinois.
Who is a Veteran?
In many cases, students identified as Veterans at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are those receiving Veterans educational benefits at the state or federal level, but we do not limit the use of the term or our services only to those Veterans.
Generally speaking, a Veteran is someone who has served in one of the five branches of the US Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard). The term Veteran is often applied to an individual who has honorably completed a specific term of service and has been discharged from his or her service obligation; however, the term also applies to those individuals currently serving on Active Duty, as well as those fulfilling their obligation in the Reserves or National Guard. But, there is more to who our Veterans are than this technical definition can reveal.
Veterans are often resilient and resourceful individuals who bring a variety of skills and experiences to the University. The basic military and technical training the Armed Forces provides instills service members with a strong sense of discipline and teamwork, and the multi-faceted mission of our modern military offers vast opportunities for them to apply their skills in real world situations with a workforce as diverse as any other in the civilian world, if not more.
There are “Over 150 ways to be a soldier,” proclaims a recruiting website describing US Army career fields and specialties. Taking into account all five Armed Forces branches, that means there are multiple pathways and opportunities for one to become a Veteran. Some Veterans at Illinois have completed technical training and several years of experience as translators, construction managers, infantry platoon leaders, military policemen, public affairs representatives, medics, or in technical fields related to electronics and nuclear power. While serving, Veterans were often trusted to lead personnel, manage supplies, or operate and maintain expensive technical equipment at an age when many of their peers were still underclassmen in college.
Our Veterans have lived in and immersed themselves in different cultures throughout the US and the world, from Japan to England and Korea to Germany, as well as Panama, Africa and Iceland, in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Taking into account theses skills and experiences, among many others, student Veterans are a substantial resource for enhancing classroom dialogue and bringing firsthand perspectives to course content. However, despite these strengths, Veterans face additional challenges in college—anything from struggling to overcome stereotypes that are at times, negative and grossly misrepresentative, to adjusting to life as a student after several years away, to taking on a full college course load while simultaneously meeting the adult obligations of providing for a family, to coping with the mental stresses and physical wounds of combat service.
- Active Duty-Active Duty refers to military service members who are currently serving full-time in a military capacity in one of the five branches of the military. Often this term applies to service members who serve in the regular components of the Armed Forces under contract or commission, but it may also apply to members of the Reserve components who are mobilized or activated, individually or as a unit, to augment contingency operations. At Illinois, a large component of our Veterans have served on Active Duty, but only a small percentage of our students who are still serving are Active Duty members, still serving either as cadre in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programs or as part of educational programs that they are attending under Active Duty military orders—they may or may not be required to wear uniforms.
- Reserves-Each of the five branches of the military has a reserve component. Individuals who join the Reserves (referred to as Reservists) complete much of the same military training and maintain many of the same requirements as those on Active Duty; however, unlike Active Duty, Reservists only serve in a military capacity on a part-time basis—typically, one weekend a month and two weeks a year (Annual Training). Reservists are subject to mobilization (also called activation) to serve in a full-time capacity while augmenting Active Duty components.
- National Guard-The National Guard is a joint component of the US Army and US Air Force, comprising the Army National Guard and Air National Guard. Service in the National Guard is structured very similarly to the Reserves, with Guard members (also called “citizen soldiers”) attending much the same training and maintaining many of the same requirements as the Active Duty components, but performing their service on a part-time basis while attending school or pursuing a civilian career. As with the Reserves, Guard members are subject to mobilization to serve in a full-time military capacity. Unlike the Reserves, however, which are federal, the National Guard is a state militia under the command of the governor and can be activated for either federal service or state service in response to domestic emergencies and disasters like floods, tornadoes, or civil unrest.
I’m hearing a lot more about Veterans on campus. Why is that?
If you’re hearing a lot more about Veterans on campus, it’s because our office is doing its job. But, more to the point, it’s because recent changes to Veterans benefits, coupled with the incremental draw-down in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to increasing numbers of Veterans in higher education. As a consequence of this influx, Veterans have banded together to form student groups here and on campuses throughout the nation, becoming more vocal about their presence, the difficulties they face in the academic environment, and the reasons they belong in higher education.
In 2008, Congress approved an expansion of education benefits for military Veterans who have served or will serve after September 11, 2001. Commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, this program is expected to surge Veteran student enrollment over the next decade, and the University of Illinois is among the many institutions working to address important questions about Veterans’ needs and the ways viable support services can be structured accordingly.
We anticipate that you’ll continue to hear more and more about Veteran students in the coming years, and we’re here to help whenever you have questions or need more information about this growing student population.
Who can I contact if I have a question regarding one of my students who is a Veteran or is military-connected?
If you have any questions or concerns about military-connected students in your classroom, please contact any of our staff or Jason Sakowski, Assistant Director, Veteran Student Support Services. We are available to help answer any question or concern you might have.
What should I do if one of my students has to miss class due to military service?
Many student Veterans at Illinois are still fulfilling service obligations either in the Active Duty, Reserves, or National Guard. The Student Code provides accommodation for these students in the event they are mobilized or receive orders that incidentally conflict with their course schedules.
Can you recommend best practices for working with Veterans in the classroom?
The unique circumstances and non-traditional backgrounds student Veterans bring to the University sometimes create challenges and potential sources of conflict or discomfort for both the Veteran and the University employee. Our office is constantly on the lookout for resources and guidelines to help Faculty and Staff effectively engage student Veterans and understand their needs, expectations, and points-of-view. We also offer regular Veteran Ally training, sharing tips and strategies to provide support for military-connected students . These trainings can also be requested by contacting us at any time.
How can I get involved with Veteran-centered events on campus?
If you are a Veteran yourself or would simply like to be more informed or involved in Veterans-centered events on campus, we would like to hear from you. There are a number of ways you can get involved.
- Join our mailing list. Our office maintains a Listserv email list of Faculty and Staff who have expressed an interest in supporting Veterans-centered events or learning more about Veterans-related news and information to pass on to their students and colleagues. Contact us to be added to the list.
- Join Illini Veterans, a Registered Student Organization and a chapter of the Student Veterans of America. This RSO frequently hosts events for student Veterans and their supporters on campus (non-veteran students, faculty, staff and non-student Veterans).
Are you interested in learning more?
Attend one of our Veteran Ally Trainings! These trainings are designed to teach audiences best practices for working with military-connected populations. The trainings can be designed to meet the unique needs of your audiences and includes discussing topics such as:
- An overview of the military culture
- Knowledge of military-connected students in higher education
- Available supports for military-connected students on campus
- Communication best practices for building rapport and trust
- Combating media sensationalism and stereotypes
- PsychArmor® is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers critical resources to Americans so they can effectively engage with and support military service members, Veterans, and their families.