Disabled Veteran, Purple Heart Recipient Helps Veterans

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    ST. LEO, FL – Elana Duffy knows firsthand the trials of navigating red tape and finding help for veterans.

    While serving in the U.S. Army on a mission in Iraq in 2005, the sergeant first class was riding in a Humvee when an improvised bomb exploded as the Army vehicles rolled along. The blast threw her head into a metal plate inside the vehicle.

    Duffy was medically retired from the Army in 2012 and awarded the Purple Heart. But that honor did not keep her from struggling to find insurance and receive help for post-traumatic stress disorder. After she returned home to New York, Duffy founded the artificial intelligence (AI) company, Pathfinder.vet, to allow veterans to search for services and review them.

    Duffy…was named to the 2018 New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame, (and the) Saint Leo University community (had) the opportunity to hear from Duffy as she (spoke) at its Veterans Day event, which (was) virtual this year and sponsored by Saint Leo’s Military & Family Club and the Office of Military Affairs and Services.

    “She is just an incredible person,” said Dr. Ernest “Luke” McClees, director of Saint Leo’s Office of Military Affairs and Services. “She will discuss her current role as CEO of Pathfinder.vet, how she came to become an entrepreneur, and how to navigate the post-911 landscape.”

    Duffy suffered a traumatic brain injury in the explosion in Iraq, but she didn’t report her symptoms, including dizziness and forgetfulness. She was an interrogator and counterintelligence officer, and she feared losing her security clearance. It took two years for the TBI to be diagnosed, according to a February 2020 story by CNN.

    In addition to her TBI, Duffy suffered leg and ankle injuries from the blast. Army doctors tried to repair her ankle, but the damage was extensive. Her right leg was amputated at mid-calf in 2019.

    Duffy graduated from Cornell University with a master of engineering degree. But when she returned to the United States upon her medical retirement, she found she needed to find housing, a job and obtain veterans benefits.

    “Her military experience and education were little help without a local network, so she began enrolling with any veteran services for which she was eligible,” Pathfinder.vet.com said.

    She, like other veterans, found some services were great, while others weren’t so wonderful. In order to help other veterans with reintegration and to give them a voice, Duffy and her team built the electronic platform to provide a secure network of information.

    “It aggregates all the variables for a veteran,” McLees said. “It takes your location, what branch of the service, marital status, children, your years of service and more, and it creates a list of vetted resources.”

    While Duffy advocates for veterans, Saint Leo’s Office of Military Affairs and Services also assists student-veterans, those currently serving and their families, focusing on transition, reintegration and academics.

    “The main purpose of this office is to remove barriers for members of the military, veterans and their families, so they can succeed at academics,” McLees said.

    D’Ann Lawrence White, Patch Staff


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