Accessibility Services • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

“Are You Good?”: Making the Law Library a Welcoming Space for Military Veterans

Today the HLS Library’s Accessibility Design Working Group kicked off its summer lecture series with a presentation by Alicia M. Reddin, Director of Veterans Services for the town of Andover, MA.

Alicia, after completing her service in the Navy, graduated from Lesley University with her Bachelor’s degree in 2012.  She is currently working toward a Ph.D., focusing on veterans services, also at Lesley.

During her talk, Alicia provided a number of helpful insights to the unique needs and challenges of providing academic and library services to military veterans.

Veterans Services Officers (VSOs) like Alicia have four priorities when it comes to offering support for veterans: (1) preventing homelessness; (2) assisting in finding gainful employment; (3) facilitating the receipt of government veterans benefits; and (4) preventing substance abuse.

VSOs like Alicia employ what is known as a “three-hat strategy” in meeting these priorities.  The “Chapter 115 hat,” is named for for Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws, under which the state “provides a uniform program of financial and military assistance for indigent veterans and their dependents” (http://www.mass.gov/veterans/benefits-and-services/financial-medical-assistance.html).  The “Referral Hat” represents the work that VSOs do to acquire local resources for the benefit of veterans.  Finally, the “Grand Marshall Hat” represents participating in social events that celebrate the military and veterans, such as Memorial Day parades.

Alicia cited some sobering recent statistics about military veterans.  Only 10% of current veterans are considered to be “post-9/11,” since it is a relatively recent trend for so many members of the military to serve multiple deployments.  Alicia also reported that an estimated that more than 5 million veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp).

According to Alicia, approximately 773,000 students in higher education in the United States receive educational benefits from the post-9/11 GI Bill (https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asp), including financial support for housing, books, and supplies.  However, Alicia stated that it is estimated that veterans graduate at 40% of the rate of traditional students.  She believes this could be because veterans face a number of barriers to assimilating as university students, including social differences, lack of technological expertise, differences in language and speaking style, trouble in navigating scenarios that include numerous choices or too much confusing bureaucracy, and what is known as “imposter syndrome” (http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx).  In addition, veterans in academic communities may also hesitate to self-identify because of these and other differences between themselves and more traditional students.

How can academic librarians optimize their services for the benefit of veterans in our libraries?  Alicia cited several factors to keep in mind in the work that we do with this community of users.  Veterans may be suffering from PTSD, and may also be struggling with the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Substance Use Disorders (SUD), migraines, and panic/anxiety episodes.  Therefore, library users who are veterans may require a space in a low-traffic area to which they can retreat, in which they can control both light and noise, and that has comfortable seating, grounding elements, and water.

Also, many veterans are looking to make connections to patient people whom they can trust, from whom they can get reliable and non-confusing help and information, and to whom they can speak plainly and directly.  Librarians may be ideal to provide this type of support in a university environment.

Among the questions Alicia was asked by the attendees was, “if we see a veteran in our library who seems to be in difficulty, what should we do?”  Alicia’s response was plain: (1) ask them, simply, “Are you good?” and (2) if they’re not good, do not hesitate to get them some immediate help: call the Veterans Affairs Benefits and Services hotline at 1-800-827-1000 and press “1” for veterans.

The HLS Library’s Accessibility Design Working Group will be offering other lectures throughout the summer.  Topics will include accessible space design and devices for blind and visually-impaired users.

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