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Veterans turn out for second outreach event

Date: 4/25/2012

April 25, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — A soon-to-be discharged young man stood at the desk at the door of the auditorium at the War Memorial and underwent a series of questions from Debbie Malek, the city's director of Veterans' Services.

Malek was making sure the Holyoke resident knew what services for which he qualified after his stint in the military and what help he needed. He was among the many veterans who attended a second annual outreach program sponsored by the city.

During the afternoon, most of the veterans who attended were from World War II or Korea, Malek said. She expected younger veterans after 5 p.m., when they got out of work.

Around the room, veterans gathered in front of tables asking questions of a host of organizations including the city of Holyoke's Office of Community Development, the Council on Aging, CareerPoint, Holyoke Medical Center, The Soliders' Home, HAP Housing, Hospice Care and the Valley Opportunity Council, among others.

The three subjects asked about most by the vets were health insurance, employment and services offered by the Veterans Administration (VA). Malek said that many vets and their families were not aware of the all of the services the VA offers.

She said that older vets frequently are unaware of new programs that have been added. For example, one program many older vets may not know about provides respite care for a caregiver of an ill veteran, she said.

Massachusetts places an emphasis on services to veterans, Malek explained. The Commonwealth is the only state in the nation to have veteran service agents in every community and Massachusetts offers a cash bonus to its veterans.

According to the Secretary of State's website, "In Massachusetts, those veterans who performed active service outside the continental limits of the United States in the Afghanistan or Iraq area, as those areas as described by the proper federal authority, are eligible for a $1,000 bonus. Those veterans who performed active duty within the continental limits of the United States or outside the continental limits of the United States other than in the Afghanistan or Iraq areas for a period of six months or more are eligible for a $500 bonus."

Veterans from other conflicts going back to World War II are also eligible for bonuses.

Malek said that she had recently spoke to a woman whose veteran husband was 100 percent disabled and didn't realize what benefits for which they were eligible.

Malek said that veteran agents such as herself counsel people year-round concerning benefits and programs.

She urged veterans of every age to register with the VA to ensure they are receiving the benefits they earned.

"Registering with the VA opens many doors," Malek said.

Although some younger vets may be more up-to-date on the benefits they can receive, Malek said the way veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are being discharged is affecting how much information they have. She explained that many people are being discharged individually rather than in larger groups and they may not get the briefing they need about veteran's benefits.

For more information on veterans' benefits, call Malek at 322-5630.

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