North Texas Daily

Researchers study lives of student vets

Researchers study lives of student vets

Researchers study lives of student vets
April 08
23:16 2015

Jordan Ottaway / Staff Writer

Located thousands of miles from home, constantly on guard to complete a mission and watching their fellow soldier’s back, life as an active military member can be filled with stress and fatigue.

Becoming a soldier requires sacrifices, and for some, that means not going to college after graduating high school. According to UNT researchers, stepping off the battlefield and onto a college campus is making veterans learn that becoming a student is a high-stress experience as well, especially when dealing with haunting memories.

UNT’s study, Veterans Experiencing the Transition to Students, shows when student veterans minimize these experiences and emotions, they are more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“Student veterans have had broader, sometimes traumatic life experiences relative to traditional students,” said Shelley Riggs, associate professor of psychology. “Our results suggest that this particular coping style is maladaptive [hindering] and contributes to veterans’ psychological distress in the civilian college setting.”

The study surveyed 165 veterans who were currently enrolled at UNT, two large Texas state schools and one small private institution. Due to confidentiality reasons, the other schools could not be named.

Out of the 165 veterans interviewed, 117 had been deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

James Davenport, director of  Student Veterans Services, said veterans might suppress these thoughts because they don’t want to or feel like they can’t talk to their families. Soldiers learn to carry on at all times and not accept defeat, even if that means keeping certain feelings to themselves, he said.

“You don’t want them [the families] to know what’s going on, because in the military you were taught that you’re the breadwinner,” he said. “And when you have a wife and some children, you don’t want them worrying about you because you’re worrying about taking care of them.”

Veterans tend to isolate themselves because it’s what they did after missions: gather their thoughts before going out again, Davenport said.

However, doing the same thing in civilian life might work against them. Davenport advises against this, and urges student veterans to get engaged with others and the campus because isolation and inactivity causes intrusive thoughts to come back.

Some veterans believe keeping a sense of responsibility can help guard against depression because in the military, every soldier was responsible for something all the time. To some, that comes in the form of the determination to graduate before their GI Bill runs out.

Of the veterans who showed signs of depression, 25.6 percent of them saw positive progress in their academics.

“Studying and other school tasks requiring focused attention are part of an attempt to avoid distressing thoughts and reduce intrusive recollections of the trauma,” doctoral student and Navy veteran Robyn Campbell said in a UNT press release.

Veterans said they sometimes feel like college students misunderstand them because they are older than traditional students. Being married or in a committed relationship added to the age difference and the feeling that veterans think they are set apart from their peers.

When Davenport hears that, he said he tells them to stop sitting in the back of the classroom and talk to people. With over 30,000 students and 2,700 veterans enrolled in UNT, engaging with others will help make a tough transition a little easier.

“Advisors, faculty and civilian students should be aware that the military culture places unique demands on service members,” Riggs said. “Patience and acceptance of different life experiences and values are needed on everyone’s part.”

Featured Illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

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