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April 9, 2013

Veterans' services forum set Saturday

In January, a group of Cape Ann veterans’ activists hosted a services forum showcasing a number of health and counseling programs available to veterans returning from the war on terror and the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Saturday, some of those same organizers will be hosting a forum that will be expanded on several fronts — with a wide variety of employment and education providers joining veterans services and other groups, and with a goal of reaching out to veterans of all wars and conflicts and from throughout Essex County.

The event, titled “Operation Commitment to our Troops” and officially sponsored by Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and the United Veterans Council of Gloucester, is set to run Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Gloucester High School’s Benjamin A. Smith Field House. And organizers say that more than 50 vendors and exhibitors will be on hand.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an expansion of what we did in January,” said Gloucester attorney Mark Nestor, a Vietnam veteran who regularly serves as master of ceremonies for the city’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. “We really didn’t have as much of an education or employment component then.

“This is more an expansion of a program we did in 2010,” added Nestor, who also pens occasional letters to the Times, always signing off as a member of “Vietnam, Class of 1970.”

“We have a number of colleges, employment services — a lot of vendors who can show and tell all our veterans what kinds of opportunities are available to them, and in many cases, opportunities they aren’t even familiar with,” he said.

The services range from higher education, military bonuses, military disability processing, health care benefits, counseling, housing, mortgages, jobs and job training to veterans’ organizations and other areas of interest. And exhibitors will include Salem State University and the University of Massachusetts, North Shore and Bunker Hill community colleges, Endicott College, and local veterans service offices from Gloucester, Beverly, Salem and Lynn.

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