Treating Mind and Spirit as One

Veterans Transition Experience

Peggy Ann Barnett, Ph.D., LMHC

Veterans, having served as a unit in the military, share the ultimate connection, and current research suggests that their continuing as a unit/cohort, can contribute to their successful transition from soldier, to scholar, to civilian employee. The model for military training is Boot Camp, a 6-12 week intensive military program that transitions students into warriors. There does not, however, seem to be an effective converse for transitioning warriors into scholars.

While serving as Veterans Coordinator and Mental Health Counselor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Dr. Barnett envisioned creating an effective academic transitioning model for our returning student veterans. The overarching framework was designed to ease the transition from warrior to scholar, to increase their retention and graduation rates, and to support veteran students to successfully move into the work force and society as active and engaged family and community members and leaders.

Recognizing the unique strengths, contributions, and needs of the student veterans, Dr. Barnett conceived, developed, and implemented the Veterans Transition Experience- the first college adjustment course at John Jay specifically for military men and women. Adapting the Counseling Department’s CSL 112 Personal Development course to a military theme, called “Guardians of Justice,” Dr. Barnett co-taught this three credit course to a military only cohort, Fall 2011 and Spring 2012. In addition, she presented The Veterans Transition Experience at two Symposiums: John Jay College of Criminal Justice 10th Biennial International Conference, June 2012, and at the CUNY 4th Annual Professional Development Conference, February, 2012.

Veterans, Reservists and National Guard students enrolled in this course researched and reflected upon people and institutions engaged in local and global efforts toward the greater good. Under the constructs and rigors of an academic course in the Human Services discipline, students addressed the transition from battlefields to academic fields, providing a collective opportunity to develop personal, social and intellectual skills for college success. It is important to note that many of our warriors have returned from the battlefield with some degree of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Posttraumatic Growth, and/or Moral Injury, while others have gone through school with undiagnosed learning differences that have hindered their ability to adequately demonstrate their competence in an academic setting. Understanding, respecting and appreciating these challenges helps provide the rationale and further substantiates the need to scaffold and support our student veterans academically and emotionally.

Creating and implementing the Veterans Transition Experience concretely demonstrated Dr. Barnett’s vision and commitment to serving the needs of this constantly growing student veteran population that has served the larger civilian student population on the battlefield.

Dr. Barnett had taken her passion and commitment working with the veteran population, through Intersections International, as part of the original cohort trained Veteran–Civilian Dialogue (VCD) facilitators. Dr. Barnett currently serves the veterans through her participation with Give an Hour, a volunteer organization that provides pro bono mental health care to those who serve(d) and their families.

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