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Surviving School After The Military

Surviving School After the Military

By Terry Hamby, Retired United States Marine and Lone Survivor Foundation’s Program Coordinator

Regardless of the reason you joined the military, there is always the inevitable question of what you will do when you get out.  Many veterans are going back to school to get a higher education, but unfortunately, that is not without its problems.  Here are the major issues I encountered and some tips on how to avoid them.

When I got out of the service and went to college, I ran into so many roadblocks.  First, the VA took too long to approve my benefits so I was forced to pay out of pocket. I fell behind on bills because I wasn’t being paid the housing allowance. It was almost like a slinky effect of falling behind and catching up. It took most of the first semester to get it all situated and smoothed out.

To avoid this, start your paperwork as early as possible.  The earlier you start, the earlier you can identify and correct any issues.

The next roadblock that I hit was trying to figure out what classes I should take.  I hadn’t stepped foot in a school in almost 10 years and I was lost.

Save yourself some trouble and use the school’s counselors to help you get started.  They took really good care of me and had a lot of beneficial recommendations for getting back into school without overwhelming myself.

The next difficulty was being one of the oldest people in the classroom.  This was the worst issue I had to deal with. So many kids had an entitled attitude and were just beyond disrespectful.  They would be talking or playing loud music through their headphones while the professor was lecturing and it was extremely difficult to concentrate, especially since I was dealing with PTSD and a TBI.  Unfortunately, I lost my temper dealing with them too many times.

From my experience, the best thing to do to prevent some of this irritation is to research schools thoroughly before deciding on one.  Most colleges are now veteran-friendly.  Look for a school that has a Vet Center on campus.  These centers have people that will help guide you and they really want to see you succeed. They will be your greatest advocate if a problem arises.

Also, don’t just rely on the GI Bill; look into other programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation.  It still falls under the VA, but it may be better suited for your career choice.

Try online classes.  They can be a great way to get an education without dealing with other students.  Just be careful to be disciplined about logging in and completing your work regularly!

Make sure to talk to other veterans at your school.  We stand out and we have likely gone through the same issues that you are going to face.  Some schools also have veteran groups that you can join.

Talk to your professors.  Let them know what you’re dealing with and inform them that you may occasionally need to step out of the classroom to calm down.  That way, if you do get irritated in class, you can get up and go for a walk.

Try to remember how you behaved right out of high school and practice some patience.  When you see behavior that gets on your nerves, try to focus on being grateful for your military bearing and the life experiences you’ve had.

Make sure you get a tutor. If you are struggling with something, most campuses offer some sort of tutoring at no cost to the student. If there is a cost, the GI Bill provides you with a stipend to cover it.

Here are some more resources to help you get started:

Lone Survivor Foundation’s Post-traumatic Growth Program leads veterans & their families on a path to healing from combat trauma. Learn more at

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