Veteran' Benefits Fair held at USF Sundome

03/16/09 Concetta DeLuco
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The Second Annual Welcome Home Celebration for Florida’s active duty military members and veterans who have returned after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan was held at the USF Sundome on Saturday.

The Welcome Home Celebration was hosted by the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital. Guest speakers included Congressional representatives of Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis; they thanked the veterans for their service and dedication. In addition, more than 100 organizations and businesses were available to provide the veterans with information and opportunities for education and employment.

Deborah Gottardi is the chief of voluntary services at the Veteran’s hospital. She said the event was organized to show appreciation for the veterans and provide them with vital information about their VA benefits that many veterans are unfamiliar with when they return home.

A former veteran in the Navy and National Guard, Leo VanWhy represented Southeastern University at the Veteran’s Fair. He said his biggest problem once he left active duty was finding a job without a bachelor’s degree and wants to inform other veterans about the importance of getting a “traditional education.”

Nolan Hanson is the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Porgram Manager for the Veteran’s Hospital and a veteran. Hanson said members of the military reserve are being called to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan in much larger numbers than in past wars. However, discharged military from the reserve face different problems than active military when they return home, he said.

Fatima Leday is a veteran that served in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserve. She said that while she has received a college education and has been able to find employment, adjusting to inconsistent income has been difficult for her.

Nolan Hanson from the VA hospital said he also believes that assimilation back into civilian society is another problem that most veterans can face.

The Journal of the American Medical Association says that one-third of veterans who have currently served in Iraq need mental health treatment.

Lynn Michaels is from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at the VA hospital. She said many veterans have brain damage or suffer mental problems that often go undiagnosed and can create problems in their lives as they try to acclimate to civilian life.

Isaiah Edwards is a Navy veteran; he served nine years active duty and 12 years in the Reserve, and was activated to serve in Desert Storm while in the Reserve. Representing United Concordia with Tri-care dental for the day, Edwards said he wishes he had known about all the programs that the government provided to veterans when he left the service. He also said that adjusting back into civilian society was a challenge.

To learn more about the services that the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa offers, visit their website.

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