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With the passage of the Post- 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, military personnel and veterans are enrolling at an unprecedented rate in institutions of higher education. This influx is creating a new generation of veterans who are transitioning from combat to classroom (Selber, 2012). Just as the wave of veterans who took advantage of the first GI Bill after World War II changed the face of higher education, universities today are beginning to understand the need to address the impact of the growing number of veterans who are accessing their educational benefits (Herrmann, Hopkins, Wilson, & Allen, 2009). Universities across the nation are reporting increases in enrollment of veterans by as much as 200% annually (Herrmann, et al., 2009). Over 2.2 million veterans have served in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and have now returned home, which has contributed to this increased enrollment (Veterans for Common Sense, 2011). With projected troop draw-downs in theatre, and reductions in forces across services due to budget limitations, universities should expect the influx of veterans to continue. Because this population of new students is supported by financial aid, universities may be welcoming these new students and engaging in active recruitment.

Having recruited military personnel and veterans as students, it is imperative that universities support them in making the crucial transition out of the military and into civilian worlds of education and postgraduate careers (Selber, 2012). Pryce, Pryce and Shackleford (2012) have called on social work educators to address the needs of military personnel and their families; this concern was first addressed in 2009 when the Council on Social Work Education established the Joint Task Force on Veterans’ Affairs and issued its report (Council on Social Work Education, 2009). The 2009 report called on social work educators to teach social workers how to respond effectively to the needs of military and veteran populations by developing curricula, research agendas, and community partnerships which prepare social workers at all levels to work in the field.

Social work field educators must be prepared to meet the challenge of serving students who are military personnel and veterans. Not only must we design our classroom curricula to teach military cultural competence, trauma-informed content, and best practices for treatment of this population, we must also work with our own student veterans in preparation for field education. Texas State University-San Marcos has a large veteran population. Faculty has worked with student veterans to develop comprehensive support plans, and we offer the following recommendations to help educators in schools of social work to assist veterans in their internship experiences. We recommend: identifying students who are military personnel and veterans and training faculty to understand them; developing strong military-related field settings; offering appropriate support based on understanding of strengths as well as special needs; and recognizing veterans in on-campus activities.

Know your Veterans

Social work programs need to identify students who are military personnel and veterans in order to be proactive in understanding these students. Faculty and staff must also be trained to see the special strengths and challenges that having been in combat zones brings. Cultural competence in this area includes knowing military terminology, understanding veterans’ experiences being “downrange” and deployed, and recognizing particular challenges faced by military personnel (Franklin, 2009). Many universities, such as ours, provide workshops for faculty and staff on how to successfully work with veterans. It is helpful, for example, to know that a veteran who always sits in the back of the classroom may be having a normal reaction to crowded rooms. This is an established response of “useful vigilance” while deployed, and is not necessarily an effort to socially isolate himself from his peers. Likewise, being informed yet non-judgmental about veteran status is essential if the veteran is to feel supported. As veterans are a diverse group of individuals, it follows that they have diverse views of war and their own roles therein. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to air one’s personal views about war when working with veterans. Research has suggested that classroom comments made by professors about the politics of war create stressful situations for veterans (Elliott, Gonzalez & Larsen, 2011).

Develop Strong Military-Related Field Placements

In our experience, many veterans have pursued social work degrees in order to prepare to help other veterans. For this reason, prioritizing placements in military-related settings may be a frequent request of veterans for field placement. This means reaching out to those on-campus and off-campus settings that provide services to military personnel and veterans, including Guard and Reserve. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a major setting for our social work placements. In addition, Veteran Centers, Family Advocacy Programs, and other placements on military installations can be prepared for possible placements for our social work student veterans. Affiliations with community-based non-profit organizations that serve veterans and their families should also be developed.

Successful field experiences for veterans require both a knowledgeable field educator and connections in the community so that innovative partnerships can be developed. Texas State University– San Marcos strives to innovate our field placements for student veterans, as well as for other students who are interested in learning and working with this population. We have created partnerships with community non-profit agencies and alternative sports programs for Scuba diving, and have had MSW student help support groups of veterans becoming certified in Scuba. Student veterans have also served in our own university’s Veterans Initiative program; they have helped perform needs assessments, sponsor and develop fundraising activities, and create a Family and Friends of the Military support group on campus. One of our most successful internships for veterans and other MSW and BSW students is managing cases with our campus Veterans Initiative; students in this internship engage campus student veterans in linkage and referral to on-campus and off-campus services. These placement examples, as well as many others, center on in-depth understanding of the veteran community and their unique needs and strengths. This requires universities and schools to have this expertise on board and to provide campuses with the support to develop this infrastructure.

Self-care and Support in Field Settings

Most students begin field settings with some challenges in adapting from the role of a student to the role of professional. Field educators should prepare the student veteran to face possible challenges when entering field practicum. It has been well-documented that as many as 20% of veterans return with one or more signature wounds of war such as mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI), post-traumatic stress, and depression (Rand Corp, 2008). Any special learning needs, including disabilities and other hidden wounds of war, should be explored before students reach the field; resources should be found for their successful healing and preparation for internship work.

Veterans preparing for the challenges of field education need to be reminded of the importance of self-care strategies such as exercise, planning, time management, and stress management techniques. While it is believed that most veterans return from deployments without special needs, we must help veterans receive the help they require, including timely assessment of their health and behavioral health needs. We should be mindful that veterans are proud and fiercely independent; they have learned to avoid traditional support services both because of the stigma attached and because of the “do-it-yourself” attitude that is reinforced in the military. Having left one bureaucracy for another, they cannot be assumed to understand all of the various roles of faculty liaison instructor, advisor, and agency-based field instructor. Letting veterans know that support is available and easily accessible is useful for their growth in understanding how the university works. Finding ways to normalize their need for role clarification, information and support in the transition from a military to an educational environment helps veterans ease into field settings (Ackerman & DiRamio, 2009).

Approaching veterans as a population with potential for leadership as well as special needs is more helpful than focusing on their problems. Using a strengths-based perspective, it is important to recognize that the veteran student has already served in a professional capacity as a member of the armed forces. He or she has had experiences that can be assets, such as leadership in situations that require team-building and critical thinking skills. Veterans also bring professional behaviors, such as communication and accountability, to their social work field experiences. Plans for support and self-care in field placements should be based on these strengths. Tapping into peer-to-peer support organizations, such as student veteran organizations on college campuses, is a helpful approach when supporting veterans in preparation for their field experiences (Defense Centers of Excellence, 2011). Social work faculty can assist veterans by calling together those who have self-identified as veterans into separate meetings, like field orientation meetings. Helping them help each other is a good strategy in preparing for field placements.

Recognize Veterans in On-Campus Activities

Supporting campus efforts to help veterans means becoming visible on campus; events such as Veterans Day, Welcome Back Veterans events, and other events sponsored by the campus’ student veterans’ organization provide venues for visibility. Being sponsors of peer-to-peer activities helps faculty become aware of veterans’ needs, goals, and special abilities in contributing to campus life. In addition, veterans are keenly aware of this type of support. They have made it through combat by “having each other’s’ backs.” Seeing faculty, including field faculty, at their events lets veterans know we “have their backs” as well.

Universities are beginning to recognize our student veterans at commencement ceremonies by providing special “honor cords” and recognition of veteran status in official graduation programs. This sends a strong official message that the sacrifices and achievements of veterans are being recognized and honored. It also helps to create a culture within the university community in which supporting veterans and recognizing their unique strengths and contributions is of importance.


If we as social work educators want student veterans to be prepared for their field experiences, we need to be prepared first. This involves identifying and understanding veterans who are students; developing military-related field placements; offering appropriate supports in times of challenge in field; and recognizing veterans in on-campus activities. We offer the these recommendations and case examples as first steps to helping social work field educators assist student veterans in internships.

Ackerman, R. & DiRamio, D. (eds.) (2009). Creating a veteran friendly campus: Strategies for transition and success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Council on Social Work Education (2009). Joint Task Force on Veterans Affairs. Accessed online at

Defense Centers of Excellence (2011). Best practices identified for peer support programs. Accessed online at

Elliott, M., Gonzalez, C., & Larsen, B. (2011). U.S. military veterans transition to college: Combat, PTSD, and alienation on campus. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48 (3), 279-296.

Franklin, E. (2009). The emerging needs of veterans: A call to action for the social work profession. Health & Social Work, 34(3), 163-164.

Herrmann, D., Hopkins, C., Wilson, R., Allen, B. (2009). Educating veterans in the 21st century. Lexington, KY: Booksurge.

Pryce, J., Pryce, D., & Shackelford, K. (2012). The costs of courage: Combat stress, warriors, and family survival. Chicago: Lyceum.

Rand Corpration. (2008). Invisible wounds of war: Psychological and cognitive injuries, their consequences, and services to assist recovery. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Selber, K. (2012). Working with military personnel, veterans, and their families. Special Issue. International Journal of Continuing Education in Social Work, 14 (3).

Veterans for Common Sense (2011). Iraq and Afghanistan War Impact Report. Accessed online at