The Think Tank: Serving Veterans with Disabilities was hosted on March 26, 2008 by the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center at the University of Washington in Seattle as part of The Alliance for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM) project.
The purpose of the Think Tank was to identify ways existing programs can collaborate to improve veterans' access to post-deployment training, education, and careers. Participants were from organizations such as local colleges, federal programs, non-profit agencies, and job placement organizations. Participants identified the following unique needs of veterans, especially those with disabilities, that could be addressed to improve outcomes:
- Address cultural issues (Latino and Native American populations were specifically discussed) and establish partnerships with these groups.
- Understand the differences between the military, higher education, and the corporate world (e.g., translate resumes into language that works in the corporate world, use strengths-based assessments of skills, address differences in supervision and hierarchy).
- Address the knowledge gap that many veterans and veterans' service providers face regarding the use of assistive technology.
- Connect veterans to services, especially once they are off base, and help them deal with feelings of stigma and isolation.
- Provide hands-on learning concurrent with academic educational opportunities.
- Find ways to connect with homebound veterans and their caregivers/families.
- Engage spouses and families in the college and career support process.
- Address the cost-of-living problems returning veterans with disabilities are facing that may impact their ability to attend school.
- Educate schools, outreach agencies, and veterans about psychological issues that many veterans experience after exposure to traumatic events.
- Address specific issues experienced by female veterans.
Participants decided to develop an online community of practice where they could collaborate to offer the following:
- Mentoring programs specifically for veterans, their families, and service providers.
- Regional Capacity-Building Institutes to identify strategies to support transition from active duty to education and careers.
- Improved campus connections and student groups.
- Communication about the new GI Bill.
- Faculty training at a college that can be replicated and shared with other colleges.
- Publications, videos, and websites that support educators, service providers, employers, veterans with disabilities, families, and other stakeholders.
The Think Tank is a promising practice that can be replicated by others. It brought together key players and began an ongoing and active community to improve veterans' access to post-deployment training, education, and careers. Since the Think Tank meeting, an online community of practice was established to discuss challenges, solutions, and resources for veterans with disabilities pursuing higher education and careers (to join this group, send an email message to firstname.lastname@example.org). In addition, several campus trainings have occurred at various locations, and a large Capacity-Building Institute, focused on veterans with disabilities and their access to computing careers, was conducted in Seattle, Washington.