Stacy Smith served in the Army, then found herself as a student at Mercyhurst. Now she is the veterans service project manager for Mercyhurst University and will serve as chairman of the higher education committee for Lt. Gov. Mike Stack’s veterans task force.
“The task force was formed because currently in the state of Pennsylvania, we don’t have any entities that are bringing all the programs together,” Smith said.
The task force was formed this year and includes 21 representatives, three of which are from this area.
“It was not necessarily because of my position at the school but because of the people I know outside. I’m on a local committee as well which is very cool because I can bring it to the state,” Smith said.
Erie is viewed as progressive in terms of veteran affairs.
“We also have a lot of local organizations that are run by the older generation and they are a close knit group but they are willing to come up to us younger veterans and do programs with us younger veterans. I don’t think it’s necessarily like that in other areas,” Smith said.
The task force has three main focuses: higher education, employment and legal issues.
“There are so many organizations that want to hire vets but don’t know how to find the vets,” Smith said.
Specialized job fairs and online resources could make a huge difference in overcoming this obstacle.
In terms of legal issues, Smith said, “we are a little above the rest of the state because we have a specialized court system here in Erie.
“So if a veteran is having issues with drugs or alcohol, they can go through this court system and have more lenient punishment and more focus on treatment,” Smith said. “There are so many veterans who develop dependencies on drugs and alcohol because of TBIs and PTSD. They are self-medicating.”
Overall, Smith will be focusing on the higher education goal of the task force.
“Our goal is to make everyone in the state have this network of reps. New York does that currently, and it has helped their veteran population in college,” Smith said.
Smith has worked with Mercyhurst as veterans service project manager for three years now. This task force will bring new exciting opportunities, while still working directly with veteran students on a daily basis at Mercyhurst.
“Working with the veterans is the best part, knowing that I am helping veterans who don’t really know the system. They are a special case, and I don’t want them to get lost in the system,” Smith said.