The Valdosta Daily Times
A band of ex-soldiers were welcomed to the front of the line as they were afforded the opportunity to query government officials and learn more about the services available to them in life after the military Wednesday afternoon, during the Veterans Benefits and Education Fair at Wiregrass Technical College.
Less than a half hour after the two-hour event’s start, approximately 75 veterans had registered to meet with a representative from Congressman Austin Scott’s office and visit the half-a-hundred vendors that turned out for the fair, according to organizers.
After Army and Navy veteran Frank Lathron shared a bit of his heart’s burden with the representative, he said he foresees the fair gaining strength and attracting more veterans.
“I came here to have a question answered, and the secretary of our congressman, Rep. Austin Scott, gave me all of the info that I needed. It was just a pleasure dealing with her,” said Lathron. “And everything was there when I walked around. Everyone who came should’ve gotten an answer to their question, if they asked. It’s just a fantastic deal.”
Among the throng of vendors and veterans, Anita Walker, a vet herself, and Benjamin Hudson were manning a booth for the Valdosta VA Outpatient Clinic and promoting the clinic’s services to the ex-servicemen.
“We hope to get more veterans signed up. We’re open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. At our office at 2841 N. Patterson St.,” said Walker. “We encourage all veterans to come see us so that we can help them help themselves.”
Some of the Valdosta VA Outpatient Clinic’s many offerings include mental-health services, addiction assistance, access to primary-care providers and nutrition programs, according to Walker and Hudson.
“We also have a 24-hour crisis center and they don’t have to be a VA member to use it,” said Hudson. “If you have any problems and are a veteran, you can call the 1-800 number and they’ll talk to you any time of the day.”
There were also employers behind many of the fair’s booths, looking to recruit from the pool of proven leaders who attended the fair. And there were also active-duty personnel in attendance, assisting their elders and learning about life after their tours end and their stations become permanent.
The two-year-old fair was born from a partnership between Wiregrass Technical, Valdosta Veterans First and the Student Veterans of America’s Wiregrass chapter, said Satellite Services Coordinator Margaret Brodgon of Wiregrass.
“We thought, ‘We want more than just a job fair. We want to help them to find answers to their questions about education, jobs and things like their G.I. and Montgomery bills,’” said Brodgon. “We were in the meeting and I think it was Ernie Florig from the American Legion, who said, ‘It would be great to have something like that.’ So that’s how it got started and Wiregrass has been so receptive.”
At the conclusion of the two-hour fair, Chief Operating Officer Tim Oliver of Valdosta Veterans First shared his aspirations for the active and inactive servicemen and woman who had attended the event.
“I hope we’ve helped them sort out the benefits that are available to them, and hopefully they can apply some of them to their education,” said Oliver. “Also, I hope our veterans have been able to network and connect with people and organizations in the community that want to help veterans. I’d like to thank Wiregrass for partnering with us and supporting this event. They’ve done all of the technical and the on-site support. And I’d like to thank the Student Veterans of America’s chapter here at Wiregrass.”
Learn more about Valdosta Veterans First by visiting the organization’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/ValdostaVeteransFirst. Call (800) 273-8255 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line if you’re a veteran and your questions can’t wait another second.