In recent years, colleges and universities across the country have seen a marked increase in the number of students wanting to be equipped to serve veterans. Some are veterans themselves, some have personal connections, and others may have taken a course that sparked an interest in pursuing a career in veterans services.
By listening to their students’ career goals and receiving feedback from campus veteran centers, institutions develop programs that identify important issues facing veterans and others related to the military and develop programs that allow students to work in positions that meet the needs of today’s veteran population.
Dr. Frances W. Siu, associate professor at the Charter College of Education at California State University, Los Angeles, frequently worked with Manuel Martinez, director of the East Los Angeles Veterans Center, and observed his “Boots to Books” course.
“The idea was to help veterans transition from military to civilian life,” says Siu, whose research interests include veteran transition issues. She and Martinez worked together to fine-tune the program so that it could be offered to both veterans and those interested in working with veterans, such as counselors.
The development of this course then led to Cal State LA’s Certificate in Veterans Services, which was first offered to students in the fall of 2016. This is an undergraduate program (students graduates are welcome) designed for students enrolled in rehabilitation services, social sciences and social services. as professionals interested in working with the veteran population.
“We saw the need there and established this certificate,” explains Siu, the program director. “‘Boots to Books’ is the main course we need to make sure students are trained on how to [assist in] the transition.”
The Empire State College at the State University of New York established its Graduate Certificate in Veterans Services in 2010. The main impetus was a growing need for academic programs that would educate students in the fields of social services related to veterans. The 12 credit program is taught online. At any one time, there are usually six to 10 students enrolled. The current program coordinator, Dr. Lynette Nickleberry, comes to the program with extensive experience, researching military culture and female soldiers and veterans.
“Since I arrived [in January 2018]we’ve actually re-evaluated some of the courses, and the Office of Veterans and Military Education has been consulted in terms of student needs and curriculum topics to make sure we’re on the right track with regards to [to] the learning objectives and opportunities that are included in the course,” says Nickleberry.
“I have students who want to become social workers,” says Siu. “I have quite a few who work for the Veterans Administration. Many of them know about nonprofit organizations set up to support veterans and they will work for those agencies. She adds that graduates from before 2016 applied for readmission to obtain the certificate.
Course content and research
The required courses for the SUNY Empire State Graduate Certificate are Veterans Services and Public Policy, Veterans Outreach, Service and Advocacy, Veterans Programs and Benefits, and Veterans Culture. military veterans: developing cultural competence. Students must go through the full admissions process, but do not need to take any other courses outside of the certificate program. Many course instructors are veterans or have significant experience in military relations, which Nickleberry says is key to communicating the nuances of the material.
“Our students often work in jobs that work in and around veterans services and they seek to supplement their knowledge and hone their skills,” says Nickleberry, assistant professor of social services and human development.
“We train our students to go there to work with people with disabilities, veterans, survivors of violence,” says Siu, who also serves on the United States Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Advisory Board.
The Cal State LA certificate program consists of 18 units (six courses), all of which are on-campus courses. There are usually 40 students enrolled each semester. Required courses in addition to Boots to Books are Introduction to Rehabilitation Services, Introduction to Individual and Group Counselling, Introduction to Mental Health for Counselors, and Trauma and Crisis Counselling. The options are Disability and Function, Career Assessment and Development, and Employment Development and Placement.
“I want to make sure the instructors have enough time to interact and spend one-on-one time with the students as much as possible,” says Siu. “We are looking at expanding this or helping other colleges and universities offer at least the Boots to Books course.”
“Boots to Books” includes a discussion of the differences between military and civilian life and the salient points veterans face. There is a discussion of suicide rates among veterans and the professor discusses intervention and prevention.
There will be a self-assessment next year and students and alumni will be asked how they have applied the program to their professional lives and how the program has increased their employability.
Nickleberry has researched military families and active duty women. Her current research project examines the lives of African American women in the military and how they negotiate their identity as they rise through the ranks.
“One of the revisions we’re making to the courses is to incorporate more information about diverse populations, including women, women’s issues, family adjustment issues, and work/family balance,” says Nickleberry. . “In the military, that means something very different because families are so integrated into the military structure.”
“We address issues such as sexual harassment and sexual assault,” she continues. “We look at veterans services that are unique for women, some of the challenges they face accessing services, and some of the policies that influence them in particular. As we review all courses this year, we are making sure these issues are addressed.
William and Mary Law School has had the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic since 2008. Law students work with veterans on legal issues largely related to benefit claims.
Seeing the need to create more informed advocates for veteran issues, the clinic’s faculty developed the online Certificate in Military and Veteran Health, Politics and Defense, which was launched in August 2017. To earn the certificate, enrollees must successfully complete four courses: Veterans Disability Benefits, Legal Research and Writing for Advocacy, Applying Techniques to Military and Veteran Advocacy, and Resulting Psychological Challenges and Legal Issues for Military and the veterans.
Certificate students are from outside the law school and do not need to have a connection to William and Mary. The four eight-week online courses start every two months. There have been up to 12 students at one time. The courses are not state specific and no matter where someone is in the United States, he or she can gain useful knowledge in their advocacy for veterans.
David E. Boezlner, co-director of the Puller Clinic, worked with colleagues to develop the certificate courses. The clinic deals with many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma, and this is reflected in one of the courses. The ability to assemble and write benefit claims is essential.
“Our thought was that the people who work for [veterans’] organizations that help veterans obtain VA benefits might be interested in training that will allow them to be more effective,” Boezlner says. “The idea was to educate people and train them to gather evidence the way lawyers know how to do it and present it in those claims.”
This article appeared in the May 31 issue of Diverse magazine.