Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Anne Shordike

Second Advisor

Dr. Patrick Kitzman


Educational institutions offer transformative opportunities for veterans transitioning from military service. Veteran-specific cultural supports in educational environments offer participation in occupations and development of skills needed to complete educational goals. However, veterans experience complex life circumstances atypical from traditional student culture which influences use of available environmental supports. Currently, the student veteran population is growing following fifteen years of combat and with systematic downsizing of the military. Therefore, rehabilitation professionals and educators must understand the unique experiences which shape veteran life flow during the transition process.

This dissertation contains three studies investigating veteran experiences transitioning to postsecondary education. The first study surveyed the attitudes and beliefs of veterans coping with the transition to postsecondary education. Results identified veterans’ preference to using skills learned in the military for solving problems in the transition and reported limited use of university supports made available. A second study examined lived experiences of veterans transitioning and their interactions with traditional students and university supports. Results identified veterans emerge in college culture following a transactive process of sorting through military experiences, building on military skills, and developing new relationships for civilian identity.

The final constructivist grounded theory study investigated the individual and collective constructions of veteran transitioning experiences in relation to culture and context. Twelve veterans were theoretically sampled and developed Kawa (River) metaphorical diagrams of their transition experiences. Intensive interviews discussed the meaning ascribed to veterans’ diagrams. Interview data was analyzed with the constant comparison technique until theoretical saturation was achieved.

The emergent theory explained student veteran life flow by two major theoretical concepts: seeking understanding and gaining stability to shape life flow in transition from military to student culture. Veterans shared understanding in each cultural environment by socially interacting with others perceived to be reaching out and connecting with veterans. Veterans also performed autonomous actions of gaining stability by using their skills, pinpointing useful resources, and cultivating the growth and expression of personal skills. Both theoretical processes simultaneously, enhanced veteran’s transition to postsecondary education and promoted harmony within veteran life flow over time.

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