Contributing Editors

Jerome Lyle Rappaport

Jerome Lyle Rappaport
Founder and Board Member
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Edward Glaeser

Edward Glaeser
Professor of Economics at Harvard University
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Stephen P. Johnson

Stephen P. Johnson
Executive Director of Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation
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Greg Massing

Greg Massing
Executive Director for the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service
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Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts
Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School
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Joseph Curtatone

Joseph Curtatone
Mayor, City of Somerville
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Tim H. Davis

Tim H. Davis
Independent Research Consultant
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Scott Harshbarger

Scott Harshbarger
Senior Counsel, Proskauer Rose LLP
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Vivien Li

Vivien Li
Executive Director of The Boston Harbor Association
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Guest contributors

Monika Bandyopadhyay
Suffolk University Law Student

David Barron
Harvard Law School and former Deputy Counsel for the Office of Legal Counsel in the US Department of Justice

Linda Bilmes
Senior lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Assistant Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton Administration.

Brandy H.M. Brooks
Director, Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, Bruner Foundation

Felicia Cote
Rappaport Fellow, Harvard Law School/Harvard Kennedy School.

Amanda Eden
Suffolk University Law School student

Sara Farnum
Student, Suffolk Univ. Law School

Kristin Faucette
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Benjamin Forman
Research Director, MassINC

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday
JD/MBA student at Suffolk University Law School and the Sawyer School of Business

Theodore Kalivas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

David Linhart
Student, Boston University School of Law

Antoniya Owens
Research Analyst, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Susan Prosnitz
Senior Advisor, TSA, Washington, DC

Ben Thomas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

Matthew Todaro
Student at Boston College Law School

Alexander von Hoffman
Senior Researcher, Joint Center for Housing Studies

Brett Walker
Student, Boston College Law School

Margarita Warren
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Articles by Felicia Cote

Removing Barriers to College Education for Disabled Veterans

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
By Felicia Cote

When veterans of the wars Iraqi and Afghanistan return home with disabilities they often face long delays in getting the educational services their county promised them. There are several reasons for this: backlogs in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paperwork, discrepancies in defining the term “disabled,” and lack of advocacy for veterans. Campus disability service offices must take active steps to remove these barriers.
 An estimated two million veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will enroll in college or other educational institutions in the coming years, according to the American Council on Education. About twenty percent will have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) and about twenty percent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, according to Rand Corporation. This influx of veterans with unique disabilities is catching many educational institutions unprepared. More than forty percent of administrators of disability services offices say they are ill-prepared to one degree or another for these veterans.

One of the first challenges is the VA’s backlog in processing paperwork. Thousands of ready-to-go veterans have delayed enrollment in educational institutions because the VA has lost paperwork or has let it languish in a long queue.

Another challenge is that the VA has a different approach to classifying a “disability” than disability service offices. The VA classifies an individual as disabled when a condition affects the individual’s ability to work. Colleges and other educational institutions, use the criteria as defined by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).

The ADA and Section 504 define disability broadly. Those laws consider a disability any condition that affects “major life activities” such as concentration or thinking. Many colleges and other educational institutions are unaccustomed to operating under this broader definition of disability. Most have previously handled learning disabilities. Other disabilities like TBI that are prevalent with veterans are something new.

The trouble comes when colleges and other educational institutions ask the VA for documentation to allow the institutions to determine if veterans are eligible under the ADA or Section 504 and, if so, what accommodations may be required. Because its definition is more restrictive than others, the VA often does not document the kind of conditions such as impaired concentration that do not qualify for a VA disability but do quality for a disability under the ADA or Section 504.

Another problem is that veterans often do not advocate for themselves. Unlike students who received special education services in high school, veterans may not understand what accommodations are necessary for them based on their disability.

Additionally, many veterans may have learned while in the military to subordinate personal issues for the good of the unit, and not realize they are disabled or believe it is wrong or unfair to request special accommodations. Only about half of veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome or major depression actually seek help for themselves a RAND study found.

However, under the ADA and Section 504, after providing documentation supporting their disability, college students have a responsibility to engage in a dialogue with the disability services office over what accommodations they need. Without advocating on their own behalf, veterans cannot receive needed services.

There are solutions to these problems. Communication must be improved between disability service offices, the VA, colleges and other educational institutions and veterans.

For example, colleges and other educational institutions can communicate directly with the VA. At an Office for Civil Rights Conference, VA administrators told colleges that as needed, they can contact the VA for paperwork specific to their requirements. The State University of New York has had success by calling the VA directly when paperwork is being held up, inquiring into a student’s status, and then providing services despite not having the paperwork immediately.

Disability service offices can also reach out to the VA to receive training on how to interpret its paperwork and to work with the VA to provide services. Montgomery College worked with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington D.C. to train its staff and establish a “Combat2College” program to provide veterans one-stop-shopping counseling on admissions, enrollment, disability, the VA, and even fitness services. Combat2College serves all veterans, not only those with disabilities. Veterans often feel more comfortable disclosing their disabilities in such an environment.

Disability service offices must pro-actively establish relationships with veterans on campus to help those with disabilities to feel comfortable disclosing their conditions. Some successful disability offices designate an employee who served in the military or had family in the military to work with veterans on campus. Literature targeted to veterans also can motivate veterans to come forward.

These campus offices are in the best position to address the unique challenges that disabled veterans face. It is incumbent upon them to make sure that those who have sacrificed so much get the tools they need to succeed in their lives after the military.

Felicia Cote was a Rappaport Fellow in Law and Public Policy in 2011. She is completing a joint JD/MPP program at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School. She received her undergraduate degree in Public Policy from Stanford University. As a Rappaport Fellow, Felicia worked in the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. 

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