The WVU Office of Veterans Affairs welcomed a new interim director this week.
Steve Riffon, a former United States Air Force captain from Morgantown, assumed the position on Nov. 1. After retiring from his role as WVU’s assistant director of financial aid in 2015, Riffon had no plans to return to the university.
That changed two weeks ago, when Dean Corey Farris of student life rang up Riffon with the job offer.
"For veterans and for Dean Farris, I’ll come back,’" Riffon said. "I was amazed at how many people emailed me and said welcome back… I didn’t know I was that kind of guy. I thought I was more of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ guy, so I really appreciated that."
Riffon enlisted for the military in 1975 with intentions to serve his country and obtain the GI Bill of Rights, U.S. legislation passed in 1944 that provided benefits to WWII veterans. An involuntary extension added two years onto his enlistment, but by 1981, Riffon was a Mountaineer.
"I almost didn’t start [college]," Riffon said.
The prospect of immediately finding a job and bypassing a higher education was tempting, but he ultimately overcame his panic.
A four-year controlled tour, a brief teaching stint at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and several other Air Force bases later, Riffon found himself working at the University by 2001.
Though his time in the Office of Veterans Affairs has been short-lived thus far, Riffon feels he understands their primary mission: to take strong care of the veterans.
"Veterans face a lot of demands, even in peacetime. They spend anywhere from a few days away from home to a year and half," Riffon said. "There is a lot of sacrifice. We have to give them the best possible service."
For incoming veterans qualified for benefits, the office first ensures benefits will apply and that the classes the veteran takes are degree-specific. Veterans who don’t take so many degree-specific classes in a semester will be denied benefits according to the GI Bill.
The office also hosts the Military to Mountaineer Mentor Program to assist veterans transitioning to student life. The program consists of several sessions that include team-building, community service and diversity-centric activities.
Work studies and academic help resources are offered by the office, as well.
Riffon is now head of all these efforts and manages 925 veteran benefit-receiving students.
"They [veterans] can stop by anytime; I have an open door policy, and I’d like to meet them all," Riffon said. "I’d tell them persistance pays off, and to fight the good fight."