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Air Force veteran now M State coordinator helping veterans get educational benefits

Eric Abell is the new regional coordinator for veterans benefits at M State in DL, Fergus Falls and Wadena. Vicki Gerdes/Record

This past September, Minnesota State Community & Technical College (M State) in Detroit Lakes played host to the first-ever Northern Minnesota Veterans' Job Fair.

That job fair proved more than a little serendipitous for Eric Abell -- because it led him to his current job as the northwest regional coordinator for veterans' educational benefits at M State.

"I attended that career fair, and found out this position was open," Abell said.

The timing couldn't have been better; Abell had just retired from a 23-year career in the U.S. Air Force that same month.

"I applied for the position, had an interview and got the job," he said.

Abell started his new duties in November, dividing his time equally between the M State campuses in Fergus Falls, Wadena and Detroit Lakes.

"I'm in Fergus on Mondays, Wadena on Tuesdays, and Detroit Lakes on Wednesdays," he said. "Thursday is sort of a floating day -- I go where I'm needed."

Though his office is located in Detroit Lakes, Abell and his wife live in Perham -- which is about equidistant from the three campuses that he serves.

"We moved there this summer," he said, adding that their youngest daughter is a freshman at Perham High School this year.

Their oldest son just graduated from North Dakota State University this fall, and their middle child is a sophomore at Northland Technical College in East Grand Forks.

Before settling in Perham this summer, the family had followed Abell through his military career, which included 10 years in Grand Forks and 12 years in Minot, N.D.

"Then we went to San Antonio, Texas, for a year, and then to Great Falls, Montana, where we were for the last 2½ years," Abell said.

"Now, I'm retired, and starting my second career," he added.

That career involves helping his fellow veterans to understand exactly what their educational benefits are, and how those benefits might help them obtain the career they want.

"We have about 118 veterans using their benefits at all three schools," Abell said.

What his job entails is "helping them wade through the process of figuring out what benefits they are eligible for, and applying for those benefits," he added.

"We also provide referral services if someone is having other issues, such as medical or mental health needs," he said.

Usually that involves working with the county veterans service officers in the three counties where the campuses he serves are located.

"There's a lot of information out there," he added, and many veterans aren't even aware of what benefits they are eligible to receive.

"We are here to provide access to educational services for veterans," he added. "That's what I get paid to do -- to help them figure out what they're eligible for, and what they want."

Typically, one appointment is all that's needed.

"Usually, within 30 minutes to an hour, we will have figured out what they're eligible for, and applied for that benefit, or benefits," Abell said.

He is currently one of a dozen regional coordinators working with colleges throughout the state through the Higher Education Veterans Program, administered by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. The program was established in 2006.

For more information, call 218-299-6881, or visit the M State website,

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454