Outreach Event Set for Region's Veterans
Officials announced details today for a new outreach effort to help military veterans across western Massachusetts.
The first-ever Western Massachusetts Veterans Expo will be held Thursday, Oct.9 in the MassMutual Convention Center in downtown Springfield. 180 agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses and educational institutions will be present at the expo, which will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
John Paradis, deputy superintendent for the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, and one of the expo’s organizers, said many veterans are not aware of all the benefits their military service entitles them to and of the services available to veterans throughout the region.
"The key to this effort is to do outreach in as effective a manner as possible to veterans of all ages and demographics."
The expo will include a job fair, health screenings, workshops on topics including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury, information about educational resources, financial planning and help with applying for entitlements.
"There are advocates who will be here on Thursday who can help veterans connect with the right people, break down barriers and get them some help," said Paradis.
Thursday’s expo is an expansion of the Veterans Stand-Down, an event that has been held annually in Springfield since 1989 to help veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Paradis said the expo is aimed at a larger population of veterans who are looking for assistance.
Gumersindo Gomez, director of the Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center in Springfield, said veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan believed the Stand-Down event because of its origins was only for Vietnam veterans.
"Many of them feel like we are not doing enough for them, especially here in western Massachusetts. So, we have to get out there and bring the services to them and assure they will be alright," said Gomez.
The VA Healthcare System will have a large presence at the veteran’s expo. Duane Gill, deputy director of the VA in central and western Massachusetts, said additional staff has been hired to cut down on wait times at the Northampton hospital and five outpatient clinics.
"We are working a lot to get more access for the veterans. We are one of the best in the country with our mental health services and we are working to get the other areas addressed."
The job fair at the veterans’ expo will have 20 employers that have immediate job openings and will give a hiring preference to veterans.