Nikhil Tomar, Virginia Stoffel; Examining the Lived Experience and Factors Influencing Education of Two Student Veterans Using Photovoice Methodology. Am J Occup Ther 2014;68(4):430–438. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.011163
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© 2021 American Occupational Therapy Association
OBJECTIVE. We sought to understand the lived experience of 2 student veterans and identify factors influencing their higher education.
METHOD. A qualitative research design was used with 2 student veterans who engaged in photovoice methodology. We analyzed their photographs, accompanying narratives, and discussion session transcripts using descriptive coding and thematic analysis.
RESULTS. Data analysis revealed four themes: (1) reminiscence of past duty and reflections on military life, (2) transition from military life to civilian student life, (3) entry to a new stage of life, and (4) influence of the university and community environment.
CONCLUSION. Findings from this study revealed factors influencing student veterans’ education and can be used to develop occupation-based interventions to assist veterans who engage in higher education.
What do you See here?
What is really Happening here?
How does this relate to Our lives?
Why does this problem or strength exist?
How could this image Educate the community or policymakers?
What can we Do about it?
What are the factors and support systems for student veterans that positively influence attainment of their educational goals?
What are the factors that hinder educational goal attainment for student veterans?
I feel disconnected with others. . . . Especially when you are active duty, when you come back from deployment, . . . the people that I have come so close to, they seem to me like they don’t care about me either. But they were also thrown back into their lives where they were trying to figure everything out too. . . . So you keep your head above the waters and try to re-figure things out again.
I still desire to go [to] sea all the time. I want to be out there with them. It’s kinda like a conflict; I want to continue my schooling, but at the same time I want to go back to the military.
Everyone expects you to be overjoyed when you are back. . . . You get off the plane, and everybody there is . . . so happy to see you, and you are just, like, “Put me back into the plane and send me back.” I still have those times when I wish I was in Iraq.
We want to keep it a secret. We like to reveal certain things at certain times. . . . We don’t want everyone to know about [our service], so it’s kinda like, keep it quiet, and don’t discuss, and just go on with your life.
In my German class, there are some veterans from the Navy. . . . We talk a lot in class about veteran experiences. . . . So there were [a] wide range of veterans there, and it was kinda nice to talk to them.
On submarines, we had to know our space and where the fire extinguishers were and how to use them. I brought this back to the civilian life by constantly noticing all this and expecting the worst to happen. I see first aid kits in malls and remember where they are, just in case.
The submarine training takes so much of your life that turning it off when you do not need it almost seems like giving up a part of yourself. As I move on in my civilian life I feel a loss and also emptiness without it.
Moving from [the] military to [the] civilian world was a great change of everything in my life. Now, after a year, I have less and less of a problem adapting to the change and can function in a civilian life without nervousness.
People, specifically my family, are my number-one priority. Being at class is important, participating in student organizations and research is important, but family is paramount. I would drop everything else without question for my family.
Here [the school environment], it’s like everyone’s freaking about finals. But from my point of view, it’s not that stressful as I’m used to. There’s, like, less stress . . . here [than] there was in the military ’cause qualifying for submarines is [a] lot harder than studying for the school here.
I had somebody in one of my classes talk about how they are lowering the scores for people to get into the military, and he’s, like, “Now our military is gonna be stupider than they are,” and I was, like, “I am a master’s student in the same program as you. Don’t call our military stupid.” So the ignorance of people has been part of my experience. But also, on the flip side, people . . . admire my service, and people ask for my perspective. So, you know, there are people who are sensitive and some not so sensitive.
I came after 2 weeks out from [the] military, and I needed a car and a place to live and all other stuff. . . . And trying to figure stuff out . . . there was no one helping me. . . . In the first semester, I was stumbling through everything.
We focus a lot on vets, but a space should be created for their family members, too. Perhaps that means reduced child care costs when a soldier is deployed, inviting family members to the center for military and student veterans, or finding a way to help out families of deployed soldiers. . . . Family members are the main support for our vets; we should welcome them with open arms.
Perceived negative attitudes and ill-informed judgments of nonveteran students and staff,
Lack of existing community resources and university outreach and marketing, and
Perceived lack of connection and social interaction with the nonveteran population.
Increased social connection and interaction among student veterans,
Assistance during early transition with needs such as housing and community and university navigation,
Increased awareness of military culture on campus,
Availability of family care services on campus, and
Employment assistance resources and services.
Occupational therapy scholars can use photography-driven narratives as an influential advocacy tool.
Occupational therapy faculty, staff, and students can serve their campus communities by actively leading efforts to better meet the transitional needs of the student veteran population.
Use of occupation-centered interventions guided by occupational therapy practitioners can strengthen educational outcomes for student veterans experiencing health care issues.
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