The long and winding road to postsecondary education for U.S. veterans with invisible injuries

Nicholas A. Rattray, Gala True, Diana M. Natividad, Michelle P. Salyers, Richard M. Frankel, Marina Kukla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


OBJECTIVE: Veterans with "invisible injuries" (a mental health diagnosis or a traumatic brain injury) often pursue higher education to enhance employment and community reintegration, but frequently experience challenges to success. This mixed methods study examined how the educational experiences of Veterans with invisible injuries become intertwined with broader transitions between military and civilian life and the resulting implications for rehabilitation services. METHOD: Thirty-eight Veterans with mental illness or a traumatic brain injury who served in a post-9/11 conflict and attended a postsecondary institution within the past 60 months completed in-depth interviews and questionnaires. We used a constant comparative approach to analyze barriers and facilitators to educational functioning and community reintegration. RESULTS: Managing school-specific challenges, coping with mental and physical health problems, forming a new sense of self, and forging new career pathways were major factors influencing education experiences and reintegration. Participants discussed the challenges of balancing these processes while progressing toward an academic degree, which often resulted in a longer, nonlinear educational pathway. While some participants attempted to "compartmentalize" educational goals, separate from health and family concerns, these aims were inevitably interlaced. In addition, multiple and longer military deployments tended to lengthen the time to degree completion. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Many Veterans with invisible injuries face complex challenges stemming from military experiences, the family dynamics to which they return, and reintegration issues that demand novel forms of resilience. Collaboration between university staff and health practitioners may be important in enhancing support for student Veterans coping with invisible disabilities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-295
Number of pages12
JournalPsychiatric rehabilitation journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Rehabilitation
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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