Back-to-School Guide Aids Veterans with Brain Injuries

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2013 - Reading, writing and arithmetic might be easier for some people than others, but for service members and veterans with traumatic brain injuries, returning to school can be challenging.

Whether it's attending college, technical school or honing skills to re-enter the workplace, service members and veterans now have access to a comprehensive guide that covers topics from A to Z to help them go back to school, said Navy Lt. Cdr. Cathleen Shields, acting director of education at the Veterans Brain Injury Center.

Recently developed and released by the center, "Back to School: A Guide to Academic Success After Traumatic Brain Injury," is now available for the spring semester, Shields said.

"The idea of going back to school is not easy for anybody. We find it's harder for service members, [if they have] been deployed, because reacclimation is difficult," she said, adding that suffering from TBI symptoms adds another layer to what can already be a daunting experience.

Shields said TBI symptoms can involve cognitive or thinking impairment, and attention and memory issues, so becoming distracted can be easy when trying to focus in school. TBI also can cause physiological symptoms, she said, such as headaches and sleep issues that can hamper school success.

Such symptoms shouldn't be ignored, Shields said.

"Talk to your health-care team and your [school] adviser. Learn to be an advocate for yourself," she said. Shields also noted that section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act mandates that "reasonable accommodations" must be made to help students in school. Most universities also offer veterans' programs for support, she said.

The impetus for the guide began with service members returning home with TBIs who wanted to take advantage of their education benefits, Shields said, but had difficulty concentrating and organizing a successful return-to-school venture. The center wanted to create a guide that would empower service members and veterans with TBIs when they return to school, Shields said.

A panel was organized to develop the guide, comprising occupational therapists, speech pathologists, neuropsychologists, educators, psychological health specialists and members of academia, in addition to veterans who sustained TBIs and returned from deployments to take on the task of going back to school, Shields said. The Department of Veterans Affairs, she added, also was instrumental in its input for the guide.

Within a year, what began as a pamphlet for returning students grew to a booklet of more than 50 pages, conveniently organized into self-sustaining sections for ease of use, Shields said.

While print copies are available with tabs that divide sections, an electronic version can be downloaded at the center's website.

"This is something that's ideal for smartphones and tablets, which most people use nowadays," Shields said of the download. The guide is "thoughtfully organized," she said, with a checklist in one of the first sections of things that need to be taken care of when preparing to re-enter school.

"You don't start school tomorrow -- you have to prepare [and coordinate factors such as] benefits," Shields said, adding that those with TBIs should also ensure the time is right to re-enter school.

"Take a good look at yourself and ask, 'Am I going to be able to do this? Am I ready -- knowing what's going on with me? How do I prepare for this?'" Shields said.

The guide offers a section on how to get started, and how to stay on track to make returning to school a positive experience, she said.

"We wanted to give a lot of good information," Shields said. "And this is a way to help service members and veterans meet success in school."

*Related Sites:*

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center [ ]

Back to School Guide to Academic Success After Traumatic Brain Injury [ ]

Special Report: Veterans Employment [ ]

Special Report: Warrior Care Month [ ]