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Veterans First Outreach Center opens in Springfield

Date: 6/27/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Veterans seeking advice about benefits and services will have a new program and location to find help.

City and state officials as well as Springfield veterans, gathered at the veterans' monument at Mason Square on June 21 to announce the launch of the Veterans First Comprehensive Outreach Center of Western Massachusetts.

Denise Jordan, Mayor Domenic Sarno's chief of staff, explained the new program came about to fill the need left by the closing of the Mason Square Veterans Center, which suffered from financial issues.

City Councilor Bud Williams, who is on the board of directors, for Veterans First, said the new program was "something really needed."

State Rep. Benjamin Swan explained that he secured a commitment for support from the Commonwealth's Secretary of Veteran's Services Coleman Nee and then placed an earmark in the state budget for the funding of the program.

Springfield Partners for Community Action (SPCA) will be providing space for the center at its State Street offices, which will be serving veterans from the four western counties. SPCA Executive Director Paul Bailey explained the program will be open the first Monday of every month to start. He added SPCA is partnering with Solider On for a grant, which if they receive it, will establish another program for the families of vets to help them with identifying and applying for benefits.

Charles Rucks, executive director of Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services, a Marine Corps vet himself and a member of the Veterans First board, noted problems facing some vets such as homelessness and depression that can lead to suicide.

"Not all fatal wounds are visible," he explained.

Rucks said, "We owe so much to our veterans and it's a debt we can not truly pay."