PNW’s Veteran Services helps student veterans develop a new mission

August 5, 2022
Two PNW veterans sit at a table

Anthony Pilota, veteran services coordinator, works to create a support network for student veterans at PNW.

The transition from the military into higher education can be a struggle for many veterans. Fortunately, Purdue University Northwest’s (PNW’s) Veteran Services is committed to creating a community of support and resources for those who have served in the armed forces.

“We recognize that veterans come to Purdue Northwest with unique needs and they deserve an environment where they feel supported in both services and camaraderie,” states Elizabeth Babcock Depew, vice chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “It is my hope that veterans at Purdue Northwest understand the deep appreciation we have for their service and sacrifice, as well as feel supported as they pursue their academic endeavors and navigate receipt of their veteran benefits.”

“One of the main goals of Veteran Services is to make the transition to college less stressful for veterans,” explains Anthony Pilota, veteran services coordinator at PNW. “There are a lot of benefits out there for veterans and there’s a certain order in which they can use those benefits to make them last longer. It’s important that they use the right benefits, in the right order for their educational goals.”

A peer support network

Loss of a support network and structure, age, isolation and lack of purpose are just a few of the challenges veterans face while attending college. Student veterans are generally older than the average undergraduate student, have families, a full-time job or are dealing with the loss of income and a loss of purpose, says Pilota.

“Many veterans struggle to find a support system while in college,” says Pilota, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. “When you’re in the military, your support network is everyone within your unit. When you leave the military you lose that support network. Veteran Services offers student veterans a safe place to connect with other veterans and the support and resources they need to succeed in college.”

I was able to meet and connect with other student veterans who were willing to help me. The biggest advantage was the camaraderie, just having the moral support when I needed it.

Caleb Vazquez, a second-year student veteran at PNW

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The veteran lounges, on both the Hammond and Westville campuses, provide a safe space for student veterans to talk and connect over shared experiences. “It helps them understand that they’re not alone in the process,” says Pilota. “There are other veterans who understand them and can help.”

Caleb Vazquez, a second-year student veteran at PNW, found himself struggling midway through his first semester. “I have a family, a full-time job and showing up to school was becoming really difficult,” says the former Army specialist and Portage native. “I started going to the veteran lounge to work on my homework and that turned my semester around. I was able to meet and connect with other student veterans who were willing to help me. The biggest advantage was the camaraderie, just having the moral support when I needed it.”

In addition to the lounges, Veteran Services offers free one-on-one tutoring, provides post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury counseling, as well as community-building events throughout the year, including a Veterans’ Ball.

Advocating for student veterans

Three PNW students walk down a sidewalk

Student veterans find support and camaraderie at PNW.

Pilota’s first-hand experience as a student veteran helps him advocate for PNW’s student veterans. PNW’s Veteran Services hosts a faculty and staff workshop called Green Zone Training. The training program helps create a more inviting and understanding campus for student veterans.

“It’s a workshop where we discuss the veteran experience as it relates to their transition into higher education,” says Pilota. “The goal is to educate faculty and staff on the issues and concerns of student veterans, how to identify and assist someone who may be struggling, and some of the unique requirements of veterans’ education benefits.”

Veteran Services also helps with referrals and accommodations for extended test time. “Many student veterans require extended test time because of their military training,” explains Pilota. “In the military, you’re trained to focus on many things at once – who’s coming through the door, who’s behind you, what’s happening in the corner of the room. This makes it much harder to focus on one specific thing like taking a test.”

Pilota also worked with former Army Brig. Gen. James Bauerle, vice chairman of The Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana, to pass legislation that allows veterans in states adjacent to Indiana to pay in-state tuition at PNW or any public university in Indiana.

A new purpose

Caleb Vazquez

Caleb Vazquez, former U.S. Army specialist and second-year student veteran, is studying business management at PNW.

Pilota believes PNW’s Veteran Services should be the first stop for student veterans. “I want them to understand there’s a support network here at Purdue Northwest,” says Pilota. “A network that will help them make connections so they don’t struggle or feel alone while attending the university. Our main purpose is to give them a new purpose and mission.”

Vazquez, who is working towards a business degree in Management, agrees with Pilota that student veterans should take advantage of the benefits PNW’s Veteran Services provides. “Being able to connect with fellow veterans has provided me with an experience similar to the teamwork and camaraderie that I had while I was in the military,” he says. “I feel like I’m a part of a crew. It’s like I found my squad again.”