By Times Staff
---- — 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.
Health care exhibitors will include representatives from the Bedford Veterans Administration Hospital, while — in addition to some private companies — employment agencies will include the Mass. Workforce Training Fund program, Mass. Transit Assistance, the North Shore Business Center, and the federal General Services Administration, which can discuss governmental and other employment on a global basis Nestor said.
“They can get counseling and help on everything from writing their wills to mortgages,” said Kevin Burgess, district commander of Gloucester’s AMVETS Post 32, which is heavily involved in the project. “There’s just going to be a wealth of knowledge. I’ve been out (of the service) for 20 years, and I know there were a lot of things I wasn’t even aware of. That’s the case with a lot of veterans.”
Nestor said that, in addition to connecting veterans with potential employers, health care providers, and education opportunities, the goal of Saturday’s forum is to simply raise many veterans’ awareness of the services for which their eligible. That, in turn, drives home the point that they have a great deal of support in Essex County’s communities, he said.
“This is about employment, health services, veterans services, education — it’s about all of that,” said Nestor, who has often spoken of the challenges faced by veterans returning to civilian life. “But it’s also very much about support — and making sure they know that support that is there for them.”