Veteran Service coordinator shares vision

Anthony Pilota, newly hired veteran services coordinator, hopes his new role will allow him to help veterans who are currently trying to adjust to life outside the military, as he himself dealt with only a few years ago.

“My transition from military to civilian life was a struggle,” recalled Pilota. “In the military, everything is structured— uniformed. When you return home without it, you’re lost.”

“I don’t want people to struggle like I did. When I returned I underwent a divorce and the separation from my six-month-old daughter. I wrestled with anger management afterward; I had a hair trigger. But what brought me back was the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership Program.”

The VITAL initiative is a VA funded program that facilitates veterans’ reintroduction to civilian life, providing on-campus clinical care and coordination, alongside other essential aid. Pilota would like to implement the program but PNW’s veteran population would have to double to become eligible to qualify.

Pilota served four years in the United States Marine Corps 2nd Battalion as an m-88 operator stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and toured Afghanistan in 2013. He was honorably discharged in 2014 due to budget cuts. Afterward, he worked as a VA work student for 4 years at SIUC.

Currently, he is enrolled at SIUC, graduating this September with a bachelor’s degree in General Management. Prior to his employment, Anthony worked as a VA work student for four years and has recently certified as a veteran peer support specialist.

Pilota hopes to he can help PNW students gain leadership skills and life experience and plans to start tabling in the upcoming weeks, raising awareness for Veterans by taking advantage of the email and text services.

Last year, the Veteran Service office lost both coordinators when Akili Shakur was laid off and John Weber abruptly resigned.

“There was never a decline of Veteran Services, they were always there. The issue was the office. When people went by the office and saw the lights off they assumed no one was there to help,” Pilota commented.

He said he wants to create an environment where Veterans can talk among themselves.

“Veterans talk differently, we have our own lingo and way of talking that other people don’t get,” said Pilota with the intention to remodel the office to accommodate a foosball table, computer lab, and a lounge with a TV.

The Hammond and Westville offices provide counseling and benefit consultation for Veterans, such as housing and GI bill. All work studies in the office are Veterans.

Meg McKeon, interim dean of students, said she is supportive of Pilota’s vision.

“At PNW we want smoothness in the delivery of services,” McKeon said. “We desire Veterans to feel welcomed and valued at PNW during their educational pursuit.”

The Hammond Office is open from Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with an open-door policy.

“Everything Veterans need is under one roof—a one-stop shop. For a time Veterans were left in the dark on what to do, but now that our lights are on, Veterans can know someone is there,” Pilota said.