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Military veterans learn of benefits at information session

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Area veterans had an opportunity to learn about the resources and benefits available to them from several local and state veterans groups at an informational session Friday.

About 35 veterans took part in the quarterly session, which ran for much of the morning and afternoon at the Dulles State Office Building.

Ronald D. Jacobs, a social services coordinator for Fort Drum’s Soldier and Family Assistance Center and organizer of the session, said the event was a way to bring veterans direct answers to questions about their benefits.

“We’ll often get, ‘You mean you’ll do this for me?’” Mr. Jacobs said.

Among those in attendance were Austin L. Thompson, a Fort Drum soldier who will end a six-year career in February, and his wife, Kaila J., who had served in the Army for four years.

“It’s a very big transition between the military and civilian life,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s on completely different ends of the spectrum.”

Mrs. Thompson said they did not know much about their options as veterans, but they both were interested in learning about housing and schooling benefits available.

“You kind of have to figure it out on your own,” she said.

Mrs. Thompson said she was interested in studying to teach special education classes, while Mr. Thompson said he wants to study criminal justice.

Groups participating in the session included the state Division of Veterans Affairs, Jefferson Community College, the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County, the Watertown Vet Center and Fort Drum’s Army Community Service Center and Army Career & Alumni Program.

Thomas L. Matthews, an outreach specialist for the Watertown Vet Center, retired from the Army in January after a 21-year career that included seven deployments. He said he has been able to talk to veterans more effectively about their benefits since he has gone through many of the same issues himself.

“A lot of people don’t realize what kind of benefits are out there for them,” Mr. Matthews said. He said he was concerned that other eligible veterans could be struggling, especially in what he described as a weaker economy.

Veterans can learn about some of the benefits available to them by calling the state Division of Veterans Affairs hotline at 1 (888) 838-7697 or visiting www.veterans.ny.gov.

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