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Dynamics of Disability Identity within the Student Veteran Community. Amanda Kraus, Ph. D. AHEAD 2011. Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project. Goal to more authentically understand how disabled veterans experience higher education

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dynamics of disability identity within the student veteran community
Dynamics of Disability Identity within theStudent Veteran Community

Amanda Kraus, Ph. D.

AHEAD 2011

disabled veterans reintegration and education project
Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project
  • Goal to more authentically understand how disabled veterans experience higher education
  • Produce a model with recommendations on strategies that contribute to the success of veterans on campus
disabled veterans reintegration and education project1
Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project
  • Research
    • Participatory-action research and mixed qualitative methodology
    • 35 individual, semi-structured interviews
  • Outreach
    • Professionals’ Roundtable
    • Sports and Wellness Camp
    • Liaise with Student Vets Center
    • and campus and community
  • Academic initiatives
    • SERV
    • Online faculty resources
  • Direct Services
    • DRC accommodations
    • Healing Touch

Conceptualizing disability identity


Disability Studies


military concepts
Military concepts
  • DOD casualty statistics
  • VA disability rating system
    • A disability (“disease or injury determined to have occurred in or to have been aggravated by military service”) is evaluated according to the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities in Title 38, CFR, and Part 4. Extent of disability is expressed as a percentage from 0% (for conditions that exist but are not disabling to a compensable degree) to 100%, in increments of 10%.
  • Language
    • Catastrophically Ill and Injured, or “CII”
  • Caregiver model of rehabilitation

“Congratulations! You have completed your Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. Therefore, I am declaring that you are rehabilitated.”

media concepts
  • Medical
  • Palatable
  • Inspirational
  • “Super-crip”
  • Tragic
  • Villain
  • Pitiful
  • Charity and Telethons
disability studies concepts
Disability Studies concepts
  • Disability:
    • is a sociopolitical construct
    • is a key aspect of the human experience, with social, political and economic implications for society as a whole
    • is perpetuated by exclusive design, and environmental, attitudinal, and economic barriers, whether intentional or inadvertent
  • How are disabled veterans framed in the media?
  • What are the messages veterans receive about disability in the military and through the VA?
  • How might this lens impact the identity of a disabled veteran?
    • Consider the process of service member to veteran to disabled veteran to disabled student veteran
    • What are the differences in how they see themselves and how they are perceived on campus
disability trends
Disability trends
  • As of June 2012, the number of American troops who have been injured in OIF, OEF, OND is 48,597
  • Nearly 20 percent of the 1.6 million service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment (RAND, 2008)
  • Nineteen percent report a probable TBI, seven percent report TBI, PTSD and depression
  • Costs associated with mental health care for service members in the first two years after deployment is an estimated $6.2 billion over two years (RAND, 2008)
preliminary findings characteristics
Preliminary findings – characteristics
  • Non-traditional
  • Access issues
    • Bias, climate, financial
  • Some identify first as vets, some will not identify
  • Reinscribe military values
    • Language – vet-speak
    • Cohort, team
    • Friendlies
  • Use dedicated space to

cultivate identity as

student veterans

  • Disability
preliminary findings disability
Preliminary findings - Disability
  • Reluctant to identify personally, but acknowledge disability as important aspect of community
    • DOD statistics, VA VR rating
  • Language
    • Wounded Warrior
    • Injured
  • Hierarchy
    • Combat-related injury
    • Service-related injury
    • Non-service-related injury
  • Service provision
    • Cohort mentality
  • Divide between invisible and visible


  • Combat-related
  • Official recognition (i.e. Purple Heart)
  • Service-connected
  • Combat Theatre
  • Visible injuries or disabilities
  • Living
  • Non-combat-related
  • Unrecognized
  • Non-Service-related (e.g. skiing accident)
  • Stateside or other non-combat location
  • Invisible (including physical, learning disabilities, psychological, TBIs )

“Well, I got PTSD. They gave me that last year or so. Back and knees and just basic joint stuff. Well, I got actually—not too long ago I got diagnosed with a mild TBI just from getting tossed around the back of a truck, hit with a couple explosions, but that’s about it. No puncture wounds or gun shots or anything like that.”

Disability depends on context


The VA says that if it’s not documented, it never really happened. Part of the problem with my job field is that most of the corpsman never got documented. The few things that I did have problems with kind of got overlooked and it wasn’t until the end that they wanted it. I went to physical therapy for my elbow, which the VA has rated me at zero percent for as well as my ankles. I’m rated at zero percent. It can increase. I just have to find more documentation to support it. I’m working on that.

Fighting to get a VA Rating


It’s like, they were trying to keep me in the Service. as long as possible... Because like when I was in, if you, if you had any type of disability or any king of, anything wrong with you like if you were missing your arm or your hand or something like that, you were as good as gone… disability did not equal the military. And now it’s like they realize that having a disability doesn’t prevent you from using your brain. You don’t necessarily have to be doing pull-ups and pushups and stuff to be worth something.

Military models of disability


Yeah it’s like a whole process. They look through your medical records, and they evaluate how disabled you are. And it sounds bizarre, but you are like hoping for a good disability rating. But it’s, you know, I don’t feel like 60 percent disabled.

Measuring self with VA ratings


"I guess in a way I don’t consider myself disabled. I don’t know. Maybe that’s what they’re thinking. In another sense I do consider myself disabled. I want to represent disabled community and it’s not so general and not so broad. There are hidden disabilities that you don’t see. I’m invested in that term because I want to represent it positively and promote that there is a way to do it with grace and values and just to kind of build awareness. I imagine that there are some that are fighting to kind of normalize themselves.”

Normalizing disability relevant to identity

  • How do the DOD disability/casualty statistics and the VA disability rating system frame disability?
  • What are the implications for developing disability identity?
  • What are the implications
  • for service provision?
  • Reframe disability
  • “Universally” designed physical and curricular environments – remove barriers
  • Integrate disability into community
  • Focus on access, justice
  • Language in outreach
  • Strong relationship with VA re: mental health and benefits
  • Adaptive/wheelchair athletics
  • Open gym to vets
    • P90X
    • Private hours
  • Healing Touch
  • Incorporate student feedback
  • Committee to discuss veterans on campus, including students, administrators, staff and faculty
  • Check assumptions about student identity. Do not assume most salient identity and do not assume common understanding/language
  • Disabled Veterans Reintegration and Education Project


  • UA V.E.T.S.