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Reviewed April 17, 2014

Tips on Making a Referral to Counseling

You are on the "front lines" with student Veterans and are in a unique position to identify the ones who may need help. In many situations, expressing your concern and discussing the requirements of your course will be enough to address the problem. In other situations, additional help may be needed. Here are some tips for facilitating a referral to counseling services.

What should I do to prepare to talk to a student?

Learn as much as you can about the counseling center and support services for student Veterans.

  • Learn about the staff - is there someone who specializes in Veteran issues?
  • Learn about the services - do they offer support groups for student Veterans? Individual therapy? How many sessions?
  • Learn about peer supports - is there a peer mentor program for student Veterans? Is there a student Veteran Organization on campus?
  • Learn about outreach programs - are there outreach efforts for student Veterans?
  • Keep a list of phone numbers available so you can give student Veterans specific contact information. By learning what is available at your counseling center, you can answer basic questions students may have and you can tell them about available programs.

Complete the following chart with helpful numbers on your campus:

Counseling Services

Main Number

  • Director name
  • Veteran specialist name
  • Other staff
  • Number of director
  • Number of Veteran specialist
  • Other numbers

Disability Resource Center

Main Number

Office of Student Affairs

  • Dean of Students
  • Other staff working with student Veteran Issues

Main Number

  • Number of dean
  • Number of other staff

Campus Police

Main Number

Campus Crisis Team

Main Number

Community 24/7 Crisis Number

Main Number

When should I approach a student?

Consider talking with a student Veteran if you notice the following changes in behavior:

  • Withdrawal and isolation from other students
  • Extreme emotions or tearfulness
  • Confusion or irrational thinking
  • High anxiety, unhappiness, or disgust
  • Outbursts of negative behavior
  • Marked difference in appearance, poor hygiene
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Written or oral mention of harm to self or others

How should I talk to student Veterans? What should I say?

  • Talk with the student after class and in private.
  • Express your interest in supporting the student Veteran
  • Focus on observable behavior - avoid judging or criticizing.
  • Use "I" messages - "I've noticed _________________."
  • Ask open ended questions, but avoid "Why" questions. For example, you could say "What's going on for you right now?"
  • Listen closely and demonstrate understanding BEFORE moving on to problem solving.
  • Ask what you can do to help. "What do you need? How can I help?"

Offer Options

  • If academic performance is compromised, review class requirements and establish a plan for completing assignments.
  • Provide options for treatment.
    • Explain what VA has to offer or at least where they can get that information.
    • Ask if he or she would be willing to hear about resources on campus.
  • Introduce counseling services as one resource.
  • Tell the student about the counseling staff - be as specific as you can, especially if there are people/services for student Veterans.
  • Depending on urgency and time, consider:
    • Calling the counseling services center together.
    • Walking over to the counseling services together.
  • If the student has a disability, ask if they are registered with the Disability Resource Center (DRC).
    • The DRC can work with the VA to help disabled student Veterans with accommodations.
  • Some campuses have a special crisis team, and most communities have 24 hour crisis numbers.
    • Provide students with this information if needed.
    • Provide the Veterans Crisis Hotline. Veterans call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online (, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.