Penn State Abington's veterans club returns the favor to student vets

Penn State Abington's Veterans club "gives back" to returning vets by offering a plethora of services and support to help them assimilate easily into college and civilian life. With about 140 student veterans enrolled at Penn State Abington, sharing common ground with fellow military personnel is essential, according to Nick Santarone, the club's co-faculty adviser.

"The Veterans club is a place for them to share common experiences. Many members have experienced things that traditional students haven't," said Santarone. "They have a bond with each other; they've all been in a war zone. It's a place where veterans can connect and communicate with others who have essentially 'walked in their shoes.'"

The club also provides much needed support for these students as they try to navigate their way through the myriad of paperwork required in order to gain access to their well earned military benefits. Under the Department of Veterans Affairs Work-Study Allowance Program, Penn State Abington was approved for a work-study position in 2008. Abington hired and trained one of the club's active members, Ryan Luna, a senior studying life science, to assist in these matters.

"We hired Ryan to serve the role of outreach to prospective veteran-students and to provide assistance with communication and processing benefits for current veteran-students,” said Chris Walters, associate director of enrollment management and Luna's supervisor. "Ryan is paid directly by the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the time I submitted the work-study request, we only had 25 students utilizing veteran benefits. However, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill -- which potentially covers 100 percent of tuition and fees -- was on the horizon and we anticipated an increase in attendance. Just two years later, we have 125 students using their GI Bill benefits. We're very thankful for the VA Work-Study Program and the services that Ryan is able to provide to our veteran-students."

Luna, president of the Penn State Abington Veterans club, is grateful to be able to help his fellow veterans. "It's not easy returning to civilian life while also becoming a student again. I just want veterans to know that they are not alone."

On Veterans Day the club enlightened the college community with their annual Veterans Day panel discussion. Eight veterans -- from the Vietnam War to today's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- were applauded for their service as they relayed their war stories to a full house.

Seeking to offer as much as possible to our returning veterans, Abington will hold an "exchange of ideas" session in the near future with other Penn State campuses and regional colleges.

"This will be a great way for us to help other campuses build their veterans clubs and for Abington to see what other schools are doing in regards to veterans. We've been told that it's a 'smooth transition' here at Penn State Abington, so if we can pass along what we're doing and get ideas from other schools, all the better for our veterans," said Santarone.

To learn more about The Veterans club, contact Nick Santarone at [email protected] or visit the club's new Facebook page which will be up-and-running soon.

To hear Penn State Abington student veterans tell their stories of service during the Iraqi and Afganistan Wars, visit the following links:

Ryan Luna --
Steve Cohen --
Jutin Ruffo --
Nancy Plotner --
Nate Lent --
Tom Lavin --
Eldion Pajollari --