You’re out of the military. You got registered for school. Classes have started.
Your next adventure has begun. Compared with everything you've done so far, this should be a cakewalk, right?
Then why is it so hard?
Maybe you thought the nightmares would eventually go away on their own.
Or that the itchy, anxious feeling you get in crowds would stop once the uniform was off for a while.
Or your grades just aren't where you think they should be.
Or, maybe, it's all you can do just to keep from punching that one idiot professor right in the face.
Yeah, that guy's a jerk.
But maybe there's also some stuff there you still need to unpack.
You know all about the fog of war. But maybe there's a fog after war that's boxing you in more than you realize.
Here’s the good news: There’s help for that, and it’s closer than you might think.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Department has deployed a contingent of mental health helpers to dozens of campuses across the country. Dubbed VITAL — short for Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership. — Tthe program is designed to make it easier for student veterans to get help.
"VITAL focuses on supporting veterans to address any issues or barriers — internal or external — so they may meet their educational goals and be successful in school," says Kai Chitaphong, VITAL's national director. "All of our VITAL coordinators are licensed clinical psychologists or social workers who, depending on the student veteran's preference, can provide clinical counseling on campus or refer them to our closest VA medical center or community-based outpatient clinic for care."
Kaily Cannizzaro is a VITAL psychologist who splits her time working with student veterans at five campuses across northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.
Photo Credit: Courtesy
The program has grown from five locations its first year in 2011 to more than 100 colleges and universities, 23 medical centers and 16 Veterans Integrated Services Network locations.
Oh, but you're the type who would never see a shrink?
That's fine, says Kaily Cannizzaro, a VITAL psychologist who splits her time working with student veterans at five campuses across northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.
"You can think of me as a life coach," she says. Or a headspace medic. Or just someone who's going to pass along some Jedi mind tricks.
"I just want people to know there is hope," she says. "If someone wants to go to school and be successful, and for some reason they’re not feeling successful, there are ways around whatever it is they feel up against.," she says.
But maybe you really don't need any help.
Cannizzaro has two simple questions that might help you at least figure out that much out:.
- Is anything going on that’s making it harder to do the things you normally do? Maybe you did fine in high school, but now just being in the classroom is a struggle. Or you can’t quite figure why you’re angry so much. Or the sleep is so bad, you’re just tired all the time.
- Are your friends saying they’re worried about you? Or maybe things have gotten so out of whack you’re not spending much time with friends much anymore. Or, if you’re in a new area, you don’t seem to be making any friends.
A "yes" to either question is usually a pretty good indicator.
"The most frequent thing I hear is ‘Who in the ... are these 18-year-old kids?’" Cannizzaro says. "That turns to ‘What’s wrong with me that I can’t be in a classroom with these people because they’re pissing me off so much?’ Or there’s tension with a professor or instructor.," Cannizzaro says.
For others, she says, being in college "feels like another deployment." But, this time, there are no battle buddies around you.
"It can feel very isolating," she says.
What you can do about it?
So maybe you could use some help. How do you find it?
"There are all kinds of ways to get assistance," Cannizzaro says. "It’s not one-size-fits-all."," Cannizzaro says.
For those on campus, the best place to start is usually with local veteran coordinators.
"Most schools have a veterans services director — someone who is the touchpoint for the veteran-student population," she says. "They should be listed on the school's website. If the school doesn't have one, there's usually some kind of veteran service organization in every community. Also the school's registrar's office is a good place to ask."
Of course, if your campus has a VITAL team, that's exactly what they're there for.
Typically, Cannizzaro will work with someone for eight to 12 sessions.
"But if the student veteran wants or needs to go longer, I'm happy to do that," she says.
Many schools have their own counseling centers, as well.
"That's not a veteran-specific resource, but there may be veterans who work there, and they typically have walk-in appointments throughout the day," Cannizzaro says.
Off campus, you can see if there's a Vet Center nearby. Run by the VA, Vet Centers offer counseling often provided by fellow veterans.
"If someone wants a civilian provider that's outside of the typical VA route, I help them find someone who will take Tricare," she says.
Indeed, according to Cannizzaroshe Cannizzaro says, "the VA is not the only way."
"As long as people are getting support and doing what’s best for them in their comfort levels, then that’s ideal,." she says.
That often means finding something outside traditional counseling. Everything from yoga and swimming to mountaineering and horseback riding can become tools for getting your head straight.
She likes to connect people with a local nonprofit in Fort Collins, Colorado, called the Healing Warriors Program, which provides acupuncture, craniosacral and healing-touch therapies.
"Mental health treatment is one option among many," she says. "But if support comes in the form of a group that goes out hiking, then that’s the kind of therapy they should access, if that works for them.," she says.
"It all comes back to what is getting in the way of you functioning in school and how can we tackle it," she says. "I want to make it so people feel empowered and good and capable. We'll find a way."