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Veterans Resource Center eases transition to YSU life

"You've been in Iraq three times. You can handle a calculus class," Rick Williams, the associate director, might tell a student. 
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YOUNSGTOWN — Dan Frost is like the Rip Van Winkle of Youngstown State University. 

He enrolled in 1994, left to serve in the military and returned last year to get his degree in electrical engineering. Frost is one of YSU’s 285 student veterans.

He described returning to school as “a huge culture shock,” especially in terms of technology, as he typed his class notes in the newly renovated computer lab at YSU’s Veterans Resource Center.

From waiving the application fee to providing tutoring services, the center helps people like Frost transition to student and civilian life.

“I’m what they call the only military point of contact. Instead of making veterans run to five different places, they can come here, and I will help them,” said Rick Williams, the associate director of the Office of Veterans Affairs at YSU. 

The majority of student veterans study engineering, social work or criminal justice. 

“Veterans aren’t the best at asking for help,” Williams said, so he relies on tools like an early warning system to reach out to student veterans who might be struggling academically. He can connect them to tutoring services and also classes specifically for veterans. 

Many first-year students are in their late teens or early 20s and eager to participate in the social environment of college, which can be alienating for student veterans, like Thomas Ericksen, who was 40 and married with two kids when he enrolled. 

Ericksen, who is currently a special education teacher in Warren City Schools, graduated from YSU last spring after 20 years in the Army. 

The center "gave me a place to go with like-minded people,” said Ericksen.

“It has everything you need. You don’t have to go search for everything," said Eriksen. That includes grocery and gas cards for veterans struggling financially, connections to mental health services or even just a pep talk. 

"You've been in Iraq three times. You can handle a calculus class," Williams might tell a student. 

In the spring, Williams' office will begin offering awareness training for YSU faculty to inform people of the challenges student veterans face. 

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• For veterans outside of the academic world, the Veterans Service Commission connects veterans to various benefits and services, administers temporary aid and provides transportation to the VA Medical Center in Cleveland. 

• The Youngstown VA Clinic provides primary care and outpatient medical services and will soon be located in a new facility. The groundbreaking ceremony will take place Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the site of the new facility at 1815 Belmont Ave. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan introduced legislation to name Youngstown's VA clinic after Carl Nunziato, a veteran who helped establish the clinic and YSU's Veterans Resource Center. 

• Monday (Nov. 11), the United Veterans Council of Greater Youngstown will have a Veterans Day ceremony at the Mahoning County Courthouse at 11 a.m. The guest speaker will be Jennifer Baun, president of Navy Waves Unit No.21. 

• Are you a veteran in crisis or concerned about one? Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or send a text to 838255.