School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Leldon Nichols

Primary Subject Area

Education, General


student service members and veterans, mental health disorders, support services, veteran affairs, mental health disability rating, higher education


Education | Educational Leadership


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the essence of the experiences of 13 student service members and veterans (SSM/V) with a mental health disorder (MHD) living in California. For this study, SSM/V is defined as active service members currently enrolled in higher education, both online and traditional, with a DSM 5 Veteran Affairs (VA) disability rating. The person-centered and existential (PC/E) theories were the two theories that guided this study. Data collection occurred through in-depth interviews, focus groups, and writing prompts. The study sought to answer the central research question (CQ): How do SSM/V with a MHD living in California describe their higher educational experience? A transcendental phenomenological analysis was drawn upon to reveal four significant themes. The four themes in the study included: Strong Support Networks Were Important for Overcoming the Challenges of Higher Education, Anxiety and Depressive Disorders are Perceived as Having the Highest Prevalence, MHD Symptoms Can Hurt Academic Performance, and Academic Challenges Can Increase MHD Symptoms, and Support Services Tailored for a Military Population Are Needed But Lacking. In addition to the study findings, limitations, implications for stakeholders, and recommendations for future research are presented.