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Student veterans face unique challenges on campus
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is home to more than 600 undergraduate and graduate students who have served or are currently serving in the military. On Veterans Day, UW-Madison takes time to thank the students who served in the armed forces. For some student veterans, the transition from active duty to campus life can present challenges that are different from their peers. The military has a unique culture with its own language, pace, and expectations, which can make it more difficult for veterans and non-veterans to connect.
“Being part of an active conflict is a different world than what we have in Madison,” says Bjorn Hanson, an associate psychologist and assessment specialist at University Health Services. “Having these different life experiences leads to having a different worldview, which can make it challenging for student veterans to feel connected to those who lack these experiences,” says Hanson. “Military experiences also can lead to living a life with a greater sense of purpose and lead to a focused approach toward academics, which can translate into very successful, meaningful careers.”
To ease their transition to civilian academics, student veterans are able to walk in to UHS Mental Health Services—no appointment needed—to discuss any concerns they have. “We talk with student veterans about their classes, adjustment to college, relationships, depression, and anxiety. There are experienced providers at UHS who have worked with veterans. We really want our veterans to come in and have a conversation with us. If we’re the best place to provide support, we’ll do that. If we’re not, we’ll refer to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Madison or community organizations.”
Prior to coming to UHS, Hanson worked at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee and worked with veterans of all ages. He stresses that no single experience defines a returning veteran, and encourages the UW-Madison community to “avoid making assumptions that student veterans will act a certain way. Go in with an open mind. Those times when we have a divide in experience and our backgrounds can either lead to connection or separation—we encourage students to choose the former.”
Hanson said that anyone on campus can be an advocate for veterans just by making themselves available to talk in an open and constructive way
“The number one thing is to treat our student veterans with respect and allow them to share the parts of their experience that they want to share. Don’t force them to talk about things that they don’t want to discuss.” Being a veteran can be an important part of someone’s identity but Hanson says to keep in mind that they’re students just like everyone else. “Being a veteran is likely important to them, but it may not be the most salient part of their student identity. Treat them like you would any other classmate and respect their service and life experience.”
Resources for student veterans
UHS Mental Health Services: 608-265-5600
UHS 24-Hour Mental Health Crisis Line: 608-265-5600 (option 9)
Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 (option 1)
veteranscrisisline.net (confidential chat available)
Written by Kelsey Anderson, UHS Health Communications Specialist