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INTRODUCTION AND OBJECTIVES
Self-advocacy is a concept that deals with making decisions about your own life. Often times, this concept is quite foreign to servicemembers and veterans because military culture is one of being told what to do and doing it. Clearly, life away from the military is not as structured and many veterans experience some level of uncertainty when it comes to managing the landscape of civilian life. The process of moving from a culture of support to one of being expected to "do it on your own" can be challenging.
DEVELOPING SELF-ADVOCACY SKILLS
To be successful in school or a workforce setting, it will be important to learn and practice some of the basics of self-advocacy. This includes proactively developing an understanding of what you need to be successful, effectively communicating those needs, and asking for help along the way. This will require you to educate yourself about your rights and responsibilities, as a disabled veteran, in the workplace or at school. Developing these skills may take some time – and will require you give yourself permission to make some mistakes along the way – and that you regard any mistakes as a learning experience.
Why is it important to develop these skills? Learning your rights and responsibilities as a person with a disability will help you better navigate some of the processes and procedures that have been put in place to help you succeed. Much of this revolves around learning how your disability or injury impacts you at school or at work (if, indeed, it does), being able to describe your skills and strengths (in language that says what you can do . . . not what you can't), and requesting reasonable accommodations.
Self-advocacy is more an art than a science, because it will look different and feel different to every person. Some veterans are natural self-advocates, while others, not so much (this is really no different than the rest of the population). It is all about figuring out what you want, making a plan to get it, and executing it without being afraid to ask for help (whenever needed) along the way.
Whether you are getting ready to transition from the military to the civilian world or you made that transition some time ago, as a veteran with a disability, you are the one in charge of your academic and career destiny, and you will need to be proactive. The more you are aware of the resources available to you, the better positioned you will be when it comes to navigating them. While there is no guarantee, advocating for yourself is the most direct way to secure the resources you need.