Ninety days after I returned home from Iraq, I sat down in my first college class excited to be a full-time student.
I had no idea what I was going to do with my life now that I wasn’t spending everyday pulling shrapnel out of the bodies of my friends, filling sandbags, or standing for hours during a safety brief.
Eleven years after that first day of college, I teach students at a liberal arts university who yearn to make a difference in the lives of others. Every day in my classroom, I teach students to become clinical psychologists. The students share a similar interest: a desire to work with military service members or veterans.
I see the student veterans in my classroom, many of them using the same GI Bill I did, struggling to figure out how they fit into this world of psychology and how they can make a real impact.
I often relate to them when I think back to why I decided to become a psychologist – I couldn’t find the services I wanted after deployment and decided to create the solutions.
I teach my students what every service member is taught to do – offer solutions to challenges instead of pointing out problems.
As veterans, one of the best ways to continue serving our country is to serve our military and veteran communities. In order to create the solutions needed in our communities, we need more than just a problem to fix. We need education to provide us with the critical reasoning ability, the theory, and the background to better understand how to eliminate the suffering of our community.
We can’t wait for the civilian world to create solutions for us. While civilian-led efforts at creating ‘centers’ or ‘programs’ are laudable, they are usually lacking a key component: information from the military and veteran communities about what would actually be helpful.
This lack of attention to our preferences is one of the biggest reasons we don’t engage in these services.
Veterans need to be asked about their preferences. For example, it turns out that veterans don’t prefer taking medications or sitting down for sixty minutes at a time to talk about their “trauma.” Many of our biggest clinical trials using these methods have huge drop-out and non-completion rates.
Veterans prefer to take part in services that have been started by fellow vets and include an experience that allows them to do something new.
Around Veterans Day, people always ask what veterans need. Veterans need to be placed in classrooms that challenge everything they think they know about the world – a social psychology class about power and control can be very enlightening after wielding your weapon in Afghanistan. Veterans need to be pushed to their limits, not handled with kid-gloves. Veterans need to create the solutions to their problems not rely on civilians to do it for us.
Ed Roberts and his “Rolling Quads” at UC Berkeley showed the world how capable disabled individuals really are, changing the landscape and the future for people with disabilities. Veterans need to do the same things on their campuses and in their communities.
Veterans like to be active. My studies and others show that service dogs for veterans are a preferred treatment with promising therapeutic outcomes.
Veterans want and need to physically push themselves to their limits – take a look at Fight Oar Die, a group of veterans rowing across the Atlantic Ocean.
This team is pushing the limits of human endurance to try and change their own lives and show the world that veterans can do anything they want to do, no matter what has happened in their lives.
This Veterans Day, which falls on the 100th anniversary of the armistice, is a good time to consider that we really need is a push.
We need an education. We need open doors so that we can create solutions for ourselves. With motivation, education, and persistence, we can make ourselves and our community better and quit wondering why the world hasn’t done it for us already.
This story on higher education and the military was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Jacob Hyde is an assistant clinical professor and the faculty director of the Sturm Specialty in Military Psychology at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology.