'Hurst veterans advocate for more support

While Mercyhurst University assists former military members, many student veterans are explaining that it is not enough.

What they say they need at Mercyhurst is a college administrator dedicated to working with veterans.

Donelle Davey, associate director in the Office of Adult Admissions and Enrollment Services, with the help of Admissions Assistant Katherine Lyden, works with veterans through the admissions process and other various steps to begin college.

Davey explained how many people work to help veterans receive higher education at Mercyhurst.

Registrar Sister Pat Whalen oversees transferring military credits; Associate Director of Student Financial Services Antoinette Jelinek serves as the veteran’s representative and helps with benefits; Davey, Lyden and Residence Life Administrative Assistant Anita Higgins coordinate housing; department chairs help with registration and admissions; and Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Chris Coons is a resource and advocate for veterans.

Even though the help is appreciated, veterans would like to see a more efficient type of help.

Senior and Marine Corps veteran Tim Hudak explained that the transition into college is not an easy one and that he had a lot of hoops to jump through.

“There is no one person who actually knows what’s going on with the veteran program,” Hudak said.

Senior and U.S. Army veteran Bill DeMauri added that veterans are dealing with many issues and college can be a difficult adjustment.

“I think that for some veterans, coming to college can be intimidating because of age differences and because they haven’t sat in a classroom for a long time,” said DeMauri. “It’s just a different environment for them so when you’re used to an institution like the military, coming to college can be very intimidating.”

With veterans such as Hudak and DeMauri collaborating and the newly established Mercyhurst Veterans Association (MVA), the push for a veterans counselor and a private space is under way.

“This veterans representative would kind of help coordinate information and help people stay in the loop,” Hudak said. “Edinboro and Gannon both have a dedicated veteran’s representative who are all former military. Edinboro had achieved the rank of a veteran friendly campus, and ideally, I’d like to see that happen at Mercyhurst one day.”

Senior and Marine Corps veteran James Oefelein added that the veterans appreciate Jelinek, the current representative, but they are not receiving some help because of how busy she is.

“She’s swamped and has to deal with Veteran Affairs (VA),” said Oefelein. “She does her best, but there needs to be a dedicated person for this.”

MVA also hopes to get a private space for veterans next year. This would be an area veterans can register, find information about campus and VA benefits and would include a microwave and refrigerator.
Hudak explained the importance of a room like this.

“It’s a necessity because many aren’t willing to discuss or bring up (issues or personal information) in a public room,” he said. “It’s very hard for some people to open up. They want to be independent and not feel like a burden to anybody.”

MVA has received support from many members of faculty, staff and administration and is working on making these improvements a reality.

By making these improvements for veterans, DeMauri sees it as a benefit to the university.

“If veterans feel comfortable and positive about an experience, they will relay that to other friends,” he said. “If Mercyhurst at least had that opportunity where veterans could seek guidance and answers, it will help recruit more students as far as veterans are concerned.”