Military & Veterans Services offers more than administration of benefits

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Zechariah Anderson

Zechariah Anderson in the new veterans' student lounge located near the UNH Military and Veterans Services office in Thompson Hall

Until recently, the 280-plus student veterans, guardsmen and reservists attending UNH didn’t have a place of their own, a place they could gather and be among people who shared a similar past or present.

In fact, until 2010, there was no actual office of military and veterans services. Veterans’ coordinator Lonn Sattler worked out of the registrar’s office in Stoke Hall where, for nearly 30 years, he and a handful of students guided former and current student soldiers through the college process. What’s more, Sattler was also responsible for students at UNH Manchester and Granite State College.

Today, all that has changed. In November 2015, the UNH Military & Veterans Services (MVS) set up in a small suite on the third floor of Thompson Hall, and in April, added a veteran-student lounge outfitted with a donated television, coffeemaker and refrigerator. 

“It makes them a group instead of just individuals"

And then there is the staff.

Karen Gilbert started working for the MVS part-time in 2011 and became the full-time director in 2015. Denny Byrne, part-time support specialist, was hired in 2013, and Katie Romero, assistant veterans coordinator, joined the team in 2015. Together with Sattler, they help students understand what benefits are available and how to get them.

“A lot of students don’t know what they’re eligible for or how to use what they have,” Gilbert says. Many students, for example, think they can’t submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid because they’re on the GI Bill. “Some don’t understand that we’re not the ones who issue benefits; once they have a certificate of eligibility, we can put things into action.”

Veteran Doug Rodoski
Doug Rodoski in the veterans' student lounge

The hope is that such perceptions will be corrected during a fall open house event in the new space. And entering students will learn all of this during VET Connect, a pre-orientation program just for veterans, guardsmen and reservists that takes place Aug. 24-25.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been able to do as we’ve grown is add VET Connect,” Gilbert says.

The program will include a tour of campus and an introduction to services such as the Center for Academic Resources, Disability Services for Students and Information Technology. Additionally, students will receive help getting their IDs and making sure their computers are up and running. There will even be a visit to Mendum’s Pond.

“This will give them a chance to meet all of us and each other,” Gilbert says.

Adds Sattler, “It makes them a group instead of just individuals. Since we have staff, that’s a growing piece of what we can do — we get to spend more time with them, help them make connections and feel like they fit in.”

That doesn’t come easily for everyone. Many of the veterans are first-generation students; a college education wasn’t part of the conversation when they were young, Sattler says. There is a sense of feeling apart, especially for those who have been to war.

“One out of three combat veterans has a traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD, causing them to struggle academically in areas where they used to excel. They lose hope. We tell them the GI Bill pays for tutors, try to make sure they know they are not alone, that there are other people here like them,” Sattler says.

“Before, we only had time for the money piece; helping them get their benefits,” Gilbert adds. “Following up will make a difference. Helping them meet others, getting to know their environment, all of it should make a difference. It’s about keeping the connection alive.”

Jody Record ’95 | Communications and Public Affairs |