Stars and stripes of student life: Veterans say DePaul is best for benefits


Sitting in a lounge with a window view of skyscrapers and sky, full of couches, board games, a Keurig and a fully equipped desk space, sophomore Liam Turman, president of the Student Veterans Union, said this is luxurious compared to the spaces and resources other schools offer student veterans.

“When I attended Miami University, like DePaul, it has regional campuses,” Turman said. “One of those regional campuses had a small lounge for veteran students and they only had one part-time paid position for a retired veteran who would help students come in, get their documents for their GI Bill and process them. He would do that all by himself for the entire veteran population [of over 100 people]. While I was there, in 2020, Miami University sent out an email essentially saying that they were cutting back and that his position would be redundant. So they would take away his position and that lounge.”

At DePaul, there are veteran affairs offices located on both the Lincoln Park and Loop campuses that are staffed with multiple people. The Lincoln Park location is in the Student Center in Room 360 and the Loop campus location is in DePaul Center in Room 11007. There is a Zoom link for those who are remote and have questions or would like to reach the veterans affairs staff or need to speak with a student veteran. The offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for those who are looking to submit documents for their benefits or if someone has any questions for the staff. There is also a lounge for the Student Veterans Union members to host events and provide a space for veterans to have community.

Vaughn Cooper, veteran liaison and senior, works for the veterans affairs office at the DePaul Center. He said DePaul offers more resources and a smoother process to transitioning to student life from active duty than many other schools.

“There’s a lot more accessibility to those who are in the veteran process,” Cooper said. “We understand what it means to be a [student veteran] because we are student veterans. We are here to help by any means.”

Second-year graduate student Corinthian Maldonado agrees with Cooper. Maldonado said his experience at DePaul has been different from his undergraduate experience, but in a good way. Studying at Indiana University during his undergraduate years, he said it was a struggle to receive his benefits in a timely and smooth manner.

“Getting benefits released on time is better at DePaul,” Maldonado said. “At [other universities], it was very bothersome [to receive benefits]. Coming here was like ‘you do this, we do this’ and it was very smooth.”

Turman said the verification process for veterans’ benefits at DePaul was fast and effortless. “Having DePaul have an entire staff devoted to this kind of processing [is nice],” Turman said. “Taking the weight off of veterans’ shoulders about utilizing this GI Bill makes a really big difference.”

There are many benefits that are provided by DePaul’s veteran services department. Some of the Veteran Affairs Educational Benefits programs that DePaul provides student veterans are: The Post-9/11 GI Bill, for those who served at least 30 consecutive days on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001; The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program, for the spouse and children of deceased or disabled veterans; and The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, which may be awarded to children of an active duty member of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The eligible children may be married and under the age of 33.

Beyond helping veterans receive their benefits at a quicker pace, Maldonado said there are academic benefits veterans can take advantage of. If student veterans are struggling academically, or simply want an additional resource, they are able to take advantage of the resources supplied by the Dean of Students, the Counseling Services department, the Center for Students with Disabilities, the Writing Center and the Tutoring Center.

He said having academic support is important because there are many veterans who have not been in school for years and may need help as they transition.

“I know here we do offer a lot of mentorship to our student body whether it be us or by outsourcing to tutors,” Maldonado said.

With the influx of resources at DePaul, Cooper said his transition from active duty to student life was comfortable.

“I dove in head first. I enrolled in 2019 after pulling out [of the military],” he said. “I was preparing [for school] my last few months. It was a good transition, I came in as a sophomore and it was a comfortable transition. I had a couple of veterans in my classes so it made it easier [to adjust].”

Turman said the challenges of facing academic life after switching over from military life can be overwhelming..

“A lot of us spent some very important years, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, not building anything of your own and being completely guided and given the next step every single day,” Turman said. “When you get out and you no longer have that structure, you can drift. It takes a little bit of time to gain that traction back and that you just haven’t had to learn before.”

Turman said Jim Rhode, admissions counselor and veteran, helped him conquer the fears of becoming a student again, nonetheless in Chicago. “On a fringe referral, I went to this Zoom meeting that Jim was having,” Turman said. “He talked about his experiences and really let me know that it was possible to come here and do well with the benefits that I had. Because it’s not always about having the benefits, a lot of veterans have them, but being told that these things are possible, that was really what got me here.”

Maldonado said despite the benefits that are offered, there will always be a struggle in changing your mindset from the military to that of a student.

“Student life becomes primary, military life becomes secondary,” Maldonado said. “You get to experience student life and distinguishing life is different from the military lifestyle.”

To make the transition into student life easier, the Student Veterans Union is hosting events the entire week open to the student body so veterans can celebrate Veterans Day while meeting members of the student body. On Monday, Nov. 8, there will be ultimate frisbee in the quad at the Lincoln Park campus from 4 to 6 p.m. On Tuesday, Nov. 9, there will be a movie night from 4:30 to 7 p.m. in DePaul Center Room 11007. On Wednesday, Nov. 10, there will be a game night from 4 to 6 p.m. in DePaul Center Room 11007. On Thursday, Nov. 11, there will be a Veterans Day luncheon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in DePaul Center Room 11018. On Friday, Nov. 12, there will be a game night with pizza from 12 to 2 p.m. On Saturday, Nov. 13, there will be a Salute to Service basketball game at Wintrust Arena at 5 p.m. Veterans who attend the basketball game will get in for free and are encouraged to sit in the student section to meet other student veterans. There will also be a recruitment table at the event.

“We generate different events but try not to limit it to just veterans,” Cooper said. “Students could have family [members] that are veterans too. We encourage all students to take advantage of the events. We definitely try not to exclude anyone because of that connection and we try to acknowledge that.”

Turman said he is excited for the upcoming week and is grateful DePaul allows student veterans to have spaces where they can host the events.

“DePaul does make you feel like you are doing the right thing getting your degree here,” Turman said. “It’s fully covered, you don’t pay out of pocket, they make sure that they use your benefits to the ‘T’ correctly, there’s a great community here, resources that Loyola and Northwestern do not offer, and you get an excellent education here. DePaul is a very very good school that makes a small community ⎯ veterans are less than 1 percent of the U.S. population ⎯ feel bigger than that. [DePaul] makes us feel like our sacrifice was worth something.”