Duquesne talks benefits with student veterans

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | Veteran students ate lunch with members of the VA and Duquesne leadership to discuss and learn about the benefits they could receive while pursuing an education at Duquesne.

Emily Ambery | Layout Editor

Duquesne University’s Office for Military and Veteran Students hosted a benefit seminar on Wednesday for students to learn about the benefits they can receive from the school and governmental agencies.

Gathered in the Libermann military student lounge, students heard from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employees: employment coordinator Nick Boyko, transition patient advocate Dwayne Hinkle and Carmen Smith, public contact outreach specialist & minority veterans outreach coordinator.

Over Milano’s pizza, the speakers shared their role with students and emphasized their ability to help with concerns in access to education, accommodations and resources.

“We can get it taken care of; we are here for your needs to be fulfilled,” said Boyko, a 2006 Duquesne alum dedicated to giving back to his community. A flag he flew over Iraq is currently in Canevin Hall.

Topics of discussion included how to file a claim with the VA, common misconceptions and concerns about benefits, employment readiness, healthcare and the PACT Act, which expands coverage for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances.

Students were able to ask questions about specific policy and claim concerns in an open forum, followed by individual questions for more private concerns.

According to Kim Sugden, president of the Student Veteran Association, many veteran students struggle with access to information upon leaving the military.

“Lots that leave the service are not properly informed of the resources available to them,” Sugden said. “We are holding the seminar to familiarize new vets coming into Duquesne with resources and give them a sense of direction when it comes to benefits and the VA system.”

Christopher Boissonnault said that with 300 online and in-person veteran students at Duquesne, director of the office for military and veteran students, it is important for support to be in place for students going from a very structured lifestyle to very little structure.

Boissonnault added that with two wars ending, PTSD and other service-related injuries and disabilities are struggles for students, so support is important.

“It was challenging going from a very hands-on lifestyle as an infantryman to a work environment where I mostly sit behind a computer,” said freshman Sean Patsfield Marine Corps vet.

Along with resources in the office, students can also take a military transition class taught by the Rev. Bill Christy.

“I enjoy the class a lot. I think we should have more classes like it and it should be available for regular students to take as well,” Patsfield said.

Each speaker expressed an investment in the students at Duquesne and Pittsburgh universities, with large veteran populations offering to come into Libermann as frequently as needed.

Sophomore accounting student Ray Penyak transferred from a university with no support for veteran students and said the wealth of resources at Duquesne shows the school cares about veterans.

He listed numerous resources at Duquesne that he has used in his time here, such as a specific librarian to help veterans research, a paper shredder in the office for students to use for VA forms, unique counseling services for veterans and talks from Wounded Warriors and other nonprofits.

“From the three certifying officers, veteran orientation, to the military transition class and the vet center alone, anytime you have a problem, there is always someone there to work with you,” Penyak said.