Although tens of thousands of returning combat veterans are going back to school, hardly any are making it to graduation day. NBC News covered a study conducted by the Colorado Workforce Development Council in an article called “Thousands of Veterans Failing in Latest Battlefield: College,” where the CWDC estimates that out of “approximately 800,000 military veterans now attending U.S. colleges[,]…88 percent drop out of school during their first year and only 3 percent graduate”. So what factors contribute to such a high drop-out rate for collegiate combat veterans?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has one answer. In an article posted on, an informational hub that contains facts, statistics, and articles pertaining to all branches of the military and military life, the Dispatch attributes the surge in veteran drop-out rates to many colleges forgetting that returning veterans face unique challenges that never arise for non-military students. “Many veterans face a difficult transition to civilian life, ranging from readjustment issues to recovery from physical and mental injuries,” says the Dispatch. These injuries can range from amputations to stress and anxiety disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Without special attention, many [affected veterans] will fail to graduate”.
But since the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs finds that one in five combat veterans either has or will develop stress disorders like PTSD, at least 20% of the 88% of veterans who do not complete their degrees suffer from an anxiety disorder like PTSD.
Other veterans, like Brian Hawthorn, who was featured in The Washington Post, might suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), an unfortunately common occurrence on the battlefield due to war’s physically violent nature. These injuries, which can range from mild concussions to severe comas, actually inhibit the brain’s functionality, and can therefore affect a collegiate veteran’s academic performance.
Hawthorn’s story was released in late 2011 under an article called “Veterans Find That Their Transition from Combat to College can be Difficult”. Hawthorne served three tours in Iraq and subsequently developed a mild TBI “caused by his proximity to bomb blasts”.
When asked about how he gets along with other non-military students as well as adjusting to life on-campus, Hawthorne says he feels “like [he’s] on another planet”. Apparently, he could never shake the mentality of “going from an environment where people around you are dying every day and trying to kill you” to one where he is both safe and welcomed by all on campus. As a result, Hawthorn says that he almost flunked out of university.
So how can veterans earn a better chance of receiving a completed higher education? Since anxiety disorders like PTSD are currently incurable, perhaps a stronger presence of therapeutic resources should be made available on college campuses. Veterans are normally told to consult the VA for medical assistance, but veterans should be wary of seeking psychological treatment through the VA.
Reports released by CBS News in 2013 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. A medical practitioner associated with the VA anonymously admitted to CBS News in a TV interview that “it is easier to write a prescription for narcotics and to just move along and get to the next patient” so that more veterans would be “treated”. Therefore, ailing veterans might want to consider consulting non-associated medical facilities to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.