Transitioning from Combat to Campus


2014-0728 Combat to Classroom

The article that inspired this post appears on Although I modified the article to meet format, length, style, and grammar requirements of this post, I included a link to the complete article in the section of this post titled, “Credits.”

Article Excerpt

Signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan include post-traumatic stress disorder, lost limbs and traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, traumatic brain injury tends to receive the least attention.

Veterans who transition to school after their service, can find TBI to be an especially difficult diagnosis.

The symptoms of TBI read like a list of all the things that can keep you from succeeding in school. TBI can cause trouble with concentration, cognitive processing, reading comprehension, and memory. In the classroom, those symptoms can spell disaster.

Veteran Richard Gilbert is a senior at the University of California-San Diego. Eight years ago, he was a United States Marine Corps scout sniper on deployment in Iraq when he took a bad fall during an operation and was terribly wounded. Back home, doctors stitched up his stomach, his knee, and his back — then diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury.

For Gilbert, damaged memory is the toughest hurdle. He can remember everything that occurred before his injury; however, he has difficulty recalling events that occurred post injury.

Gilbert uses an elaborate system to cope with his brain injury. There’s the list of PTSD triggers and TBI symptoms he jots down so he can recognize what’s going on in his head – things like loud noises, migraines and night terrors. There are the iPhone alarms he sets to remind himself of every class, appointment, and deadline. And there’s the whiteboard his girlfriend, Bethany Wilday, bought and hung next to his door. On it, she has carefully written out a color-coded list of everything going on each week, as well as a reminder to turn off the oven, since Gilbert kept leaving it on when he left the house.

Today, Richard Gilbert is doing well. He says he knows his brain’s not normal – but he’s found the workarounds he needs to succeed.

Richard Gilbert got help from his school’s disability services office, which he says was a “lifesaver.” Now he’s allowed to wear sunglasses during lectures, to ward off the migraines that are a symptom of his brain injury, and use a laptop in class, even when other students aren’t, though that can make him feel like he’s outing himself as disabled to a whole lecture hall.

Student veterans may be less likely than other disabled students to contact their disability services office, according to Meg Mitcham, director of veterans programs at the American Council on Education.

We’ve all heard the stigmas against help-seeking behaviors for the military population. Keep in mind, there is also a possibility you don’t know you have a brain injury, you don’t know there are services and accommodations available, and you might think you don’t need or don’t want help.

Many veterans may need academic help before they ever set foot on campus. Amy Jak, a neuropsychologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego, leads a course at a VA clinic in Oceanside, California, for veterans with TBI who are returning to school.

Jak developed the course in 2008, when she started to notice how her patients were struggling once they got to college. The syllabus covers study skills, concentration and focus and reading comprehension.


Click here to read another Beyond Injury post about veterans.

Thanks to BrainlineMilitary for sharing the article that inspired me to write this post; Richard Gilbert for sharing his story; University of California, San Diego and all the other schools that offer special services to disabled people; Meg Mitcham, director of veterans programs, at American Council on Education for contributing to the article; and Amy Jak for recognizing the need to provide pre-college training to veterans with traumatic brain injury.

Click here to read the full post as it appears on

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