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Teaching Campuses to Work with Veterans

Student veterans often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. That is true. But what also is true is that student veterans are dedicated learners, leaders in student activities and contributors on campus.

Still, the conversation too often returns to PTSD and stereotypes. Classmates, and sometimes college administrators, veterans say, see them as one-dimensional characters on the verge of a breakdown.

The Jed Foundation is working behind the scenes to dismantle those stereotypes and give colleges the tools they need to help veterans with their transition from the uniformed ranks to the classroom.

“We need to be careful about the way we portray emotional health issues in the aftermath of war,” said Courtney Knowles, executive director of The Jed Foundation. “Some veterans will be at an increased risk for suicide, but it’s not fair to depict everyone who is making this transition as unstable and at-risk.”

The foundation was created about 10 years ago by a family who lost a son to suicide. As the family searched for answers, they learned there was not much collaboration on college campuses to address mental health problems and suicide prevention.

Now, The Jed Foundation has created several programs, while working with leading experts in the mental health field, that can be used by every college across the country. One of these free programs creates a website for each school that offers students mental health tools and details about programs available on their campus.

“We’ve just finished an online training tool for campus professionals that help them first of all understand the student veteran perspective and secondly, help them understand a little more about the emotional health challenges that some veterans may face coming back from deployment or combat,” Knowles said.

The foundation said veterans have expressed concerns that campuses are focused solely on real or perceived mental health injuries and are overly cautious of them.

“It’s not really the campuses’ faults,” Knowles said. “Part of their job is to look out for the students and spot potential problems. Sometimes in focusing on the problems, they are not seeing the opportunities.

“Everyone is talking about how they might have PTSD, but no one is talking about what they can contribute to the campus community,” Knowles said.

Student veterans, he said, are often more mature than their peers and have refined skills that make them better students.

And it’s not just campus officials who need training in welcoming home veterans. Often it is members of the student body as well who don’t know how to respond. Dealing with a civilian population after a combat deployment can be frustrating, Knowles said.

“If your job has been life or death and you are suddenly around students who are only concerned about ‘Jersey Shore,’ that may be frustrating,” he said. “What’s really important is anytime you have two different groups of people, there is a learning that needs to happen on both sides. We’re trying to get both sides to think about that.”

Want to learn more about The Jed Foundation? Visit,

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