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Veterans Across the Life Course Explores Impact of Military Service

Class engages a diverse array of students, pushing them to move beyond assumptions and use research to delve into the unique issues veterans face.

Veterans Across the Life Course Class Prof Scott Landes with Students
Maxwell professor Scott Landes, left, shares veteran data with students in his Veterans Across the Life Course class (left to right) Catherine Annis, Brady Hallahan, Ashlyn Wong and Weston Bennett.

When Brady Hallahan ’19 started his college journey at Syracuse University, he had already gained the life experience he needed to make important decisions about his path forward. “The five years I spent in the Navy was a huge stepping stone in figuring out what I wanted to pursue in civilian life,” says the 26-year-old veteran. He had been deployed twice in the Persian Gulf, serving as an electronic warfare technician on the submarine USS Providence. “I feel my experiences set me apart not only from my peers here on campus, but also from most civilians I encounter. Living underwater for months at a time is tough to put into perspective for those who haven’t experienced it.”

Still, Hallahan felt there was a lot he didn’t know about veterans. “I am fortunate to be a non-disabled veteran with great support from my family and the University, and I feel an obligation to be more aware of the experience of other vets,” he says. “We all see the statistics on suicide, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and homelessness among this demographic, but an in-depth understanding of these issues and their possible causes is needed.”

This fall, during his final semester in the School of Information Studies pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information management and technology, Hallahan enrolled in a sociology class called Veterans Across the Life Course. Taught by Scott Landes, an assistant professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the class explores the impact of military service at different stages of life.  

“This is my first class with Dr. Landes and I wish I had taken others with him before my final undergraduate semester,” Hallahan says. “He has firsthand experience from working within the Veterans Health Administration and having several prior-service family members, as well as dedicating countless hours to research here at Syracuse University. This gives him a unique grasp on issues that veterans face.”

A Cross Section of Students

The Veterans Across the Life Course seminar-style class enrolls a diverse mixture of veteran, active duty, undergraduate and graduate students. Landes covers a wide variety of veteran-specific topics, from who joins the military to PTSD, disability and health behavior, veteran benefits, post-service employment, aging and mortality. He deftly engages his students as he darts around the classroom translating reams of data into lively discussion topics.

“No matter our experience or perspective, the military impacts many of us, individually and collectively,” Landes says. “Having an opportunity to explore this topic as a diverse learning community pushes us to move beyond our own experiences and assumptions and gain a more robust understanding of this influential social structure. I very much enjoy teaching this course for those reasons.” 

“I am learning so much in the class,” says Catherine Annis, a Ph.D. student in public administration in the Maxwell School. “It helps researchers like me consider the very human aspect of the topics we are studying. We consider turning points in a veteran’s life that can lead to different outcomes—the historical period one served in, whether they experienced combat, how old they were when they joined and transitioned back to civilian life, their background, gender, race, ethnicity and more. I find it very useful to be taught to consider these factors since my research looks at how collaborative efforts affect how we deliver services and the resulting outcomes.”

An Active-Duty Viewpoint

Weston Bennett ’20, a 21-year-old member of the New York State National Guard, says he closely relates to the class as someone who is planning to pursue a military career. “I find topics like PTSD, employment, and how deployment affects families and marriages very interesting,” he says. “All of these things affect National Guard soldiers in different ways because we live both civilian and military lives. Turning on and off the military switch is very difficult.” The Huntington Beach, California, native learned about Syracuse University’s military-friendly programs and supports when he was enrolled at the New Mexico Military Institute, where he earned an associate degree. He is set to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in sociology through the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School, and has already received his post-graduation active-duty orders.

Landes leverages the expertise of other Syracuse professors who are working on veteran-related issues to make his class more relevant. “Dr. Landes brings researchers and practitioners to talk about their work almost every week,” Annis says. “For example, last week we discussed research by Maxwell professors Colleen Heflin, Janet Wilmoth and Andrew London about veteran status and material hardship. A great feature of the class is that we consider the unique experiences of active-duty service members, too—Army Reserve, National Guard, service-member spouses and children as well,” she points out. “I encourage all people who are considering studying or working with veterans to take the class.”

Beyond the Surface

Ashlyn Wong ’21, majoring in psychology and sociology through the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School, says her only connection to the military is her grandfather’s participation in the Korean War. “I became captivated by Dr. Landes’ teaching style, which moves beyond surface-level data,” she says. “It’s one thing to summarize what research says about veterans, and another to ask what these findings suggest not only about veteran culture, but about the culture of our society as a whole.” She believes data is often skewed so we can’t see the full picture. “People believe we are doing enough for veterans because of the money we put into the VA, but if we look closer we can probe whether these services are reaching the veterans who need it most,” she says.

After he graduates, Hallahan would like to continue his education at Syracuse University, which was once again named the No. 1 private institution in the Military Times’ Best for Vets 2020 rankings. “When I was separating from the service, I took a transition assistance class and learned about all the great things offered through Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs,” Hallahan says. “I am using my Yellow Ribbon GI Bill benefits and, due to Syracuse University’s generous transfer credit policy, I’ll have enough of my benefits left for my master’s degree. And, hopefully, another chance to take a class with Professor Landes.”

Mary Beth Horsington

This story was published on .


Also of Interest

  • Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

    The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs is Syracuse University’s home for innovative, interdisciplinary teaching and research in the social sciences, public policy, public administration and international relations.

  • Veteran Benefits

    Syracuse University participates in all veterans’ education programs and is a Yellow Ribbon school. There is currently no limit on the number of students eligible to receive the Yellow Ribbon benefit at Syracuse University.