This blog post was written by Darryl G. Cathcart M.Ed. from Release Point Education.

Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to take part in a Veterans Studies Association online conference, which unpacked many Veteran-related themes first espoused by Willard Walter Waller in the early part of the 20th-century. In the aftermath of the Frist World War (FWW), reinforced by reintegration efforts during and after the Second World War (SWW), Veteran concerns were omnipresent and permeated every aspect of Western society. While Waller focused on the American experience, there is a reasonable expectation that several themes that could be applied to Veterans across the globe. Not having heard or read Waller’s (1944) work before this day-long conference, I found a copy of The Veteran Comes Back and spent some time considering Waller’s observations. While the ideas captured in this book were written during a less-inclusive period with outdated social approaches and language, many of the central concepts remain the focus of contemporary researchers, advocates, and Veteran-support agencies.

As a Canadian who is primarily focused on the higher education landscape in Canada, I am conscious of the legal and cultural differences in the use of the term Veteran as well as military-connected or affiliated learner. For this blog, a Veteran is a former serving member of a nation’s armed force, regardless of operational experience. A military-connected learner is interpreted as a serving member of the Regular or Reserve component of the military as well as an immediate family member. Military-connected student/learner refers to the aggregate of these affiliations.

Nearly eight decades after the original publication of The Veteran Comes Back, we find ourselves trying to generate awareness and gain momentum in several Veteran support areas, particularly with military-connected students in higher education. In Canada, the cultivation of an inclusive and supportive higher education environment for military-connected students confronts a ubiquitous hurdle in terms of the lack of awareness which is juxtaposed against efforts to generate momentum in learning institutions that expressed an interest in supporting this underrepresented student population. The tension created between generating awareness and gaining momentum comes at the cost of delaying the implementation of tailored supports for military-connected learners. Doing both in a near-simultaneous manner requires bold leadership and a well-articulated vision. Waiting to re-learn lessons from the early 20th-century is not acceptable.

Waller (1944) stated that “if a veteran suffers disadvantage in competition because of his military service, a properly planned educational program will enable him to overcome that handicap” (p. 293). Generating awareness of military-connected students to foster a customizable program on campus is yielding mixed reviews. There are Canadian institutions that are pursuing funded research opportunities, developing holistic support models, and even identifying prior learning processes to encourage enrollment. Conversely, a larger number of institutions have yet to recognize the full potential of welcoming military-connected learners on campus. While the numbers of contemporary Veterans are significantly less in comparison to those of the world wars, the act of foregoing civilian opportunities in pursuit of military service has not changed. I encourage higher education to explore the cultivation of military-connected student programming.

There is a natural ebb and flow to maintaining momentum in any discipline, where arguably in Veteran studies this follows mass mobilization and demobilization stages along with periods of heightened conflict. Given the manner with which contemporary militaries have been employed, there appears to be an inconsistent approach to supporting Veterans in all well-being domains. In terms of military-connected students in higher education, the drive to gain momentum in recognizing and supporting an underrepresented group of adult learners is a challenge. One that is not insurmountable, but I would suggest that we (practitioners, researchers, advocates) need to engage politically, at every level of the education institution, and within local communities to highlight the potential of military-connected students.

Higher education is a transformative experience that when coupled with the lived experience, skills and qualifications earned during service provides a springboard for post-military success. Given that the investigation of military-connected students is an emerging area for many in post-secondary and higher education, a simultaneous need of raising awareness and maintaining momentum is presented. Reflecting on Waller’s work, I sense that we are confronting a persistent issue that will benefit from consistent attention and consideration; one where customizable and sustainable programs should be explored.  

Waller, W. W. (1944). The Veteran Comes Back. Dryden Press, Inc.

About the author

Darryl G. Cathcart retired from the Canadian Army in 2017 after nearly 26 years of regular force service. As an infantry soldier and officer in The Royal Canadian Regiment, he conducted collective training and operations on four different continents. Darryl is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, the United States Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School at Marine Corps University, the Canadian Forces College, and holds a Master of Education degree from Queen’s University. Currently, Darryl is in his final year of a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at Western University with a focus on the role of training and education during the military-to-civilian transition period of service members.