Veterans Resource Fair, Tribute Concert Scheduled for Nov. 12
By MONICA CALZOLARI
There are more than 24,500 veterans spread across Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Broome counties, 4,259 of whom live here in Otsego County.
All are invited to this year’s Oneonta Veterans Resource Fair on Sunday, November 12 at Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center from 1-3 p.m.
At 3 p.m., there will be a Veterans Tribute Concert. The Oneonta Community Concert Band will perform a series of patriotic songs in Foothills’ Bettiol Theatre. Both events are free and open to the public.
Jason Davis, veteran outreach program specialist for the Binghamton Vet Center, helped organize the fair.
“Last year, more than 250 veterans attended the resource fair. We are hoping for even more this year,” Davis said.
The fair was spearheaded by two organizations: the Otsego County Veterans’ Service Agency and the Binghamton Vet Center. The event was such a success that the Otsego County Veteran Coalition was formed, with the goal of making the resource fair an annual event with even greater reach and participation.
The Otsego County Department of Social Services and Otsego County Office for the Aging are part of the coalition. More than 20 agencies that assist veterans will be on site next weekend at Foothills.
Phil Couse is the director of veteran services for Otsego County and an Army veteran. He explained, “There are many conditions that our veterans locally and in surrounding counties deal with daily, such as, but not limited to, illnesses due to toxic exposure, hearing loss, military sexual trauma and injuries that occurred while serving.”
Couse said, “Approximately 80 percent of veterans coming into my office this year are directly related to the PACT Act and toxic exposure. This law has made a serious impact on veterans, their families and surviving family members.”
The PACT Act, passed into policy in August of 2022, expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, burn pits, Camp Lejeune contaminated water, asbestos, jet fuels, radiation, and more. Veterans in need of assistance with filing a claim due to any of these conditions should reach out to their local veteran service office, the New York State Department of Veterans’ Services or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to see if they have qualifying conditions.
Navigating all the different agencies and services for veterans can be confusing. At the national level, there is the VA. Then there are the VA medical centers, like the ones in Albany and Syracuse. New York State has a Division of Veterans Affairs. There are also veteran service organizations at the county level. There are community outpatient clinics and there are vet centers.
The VSO also works with surviving spouses and family members when a veteran passes away regarding burial benefits and compensation.
Couse said, “Over the last couple years we have seen a spike in veterans becoming homeless. If you are a veteran and feel that you are at risk of becoming homeless, or are currently a homeless veteran, please contact your local VSO office.
“There are several programs that we coordinate with to assist our local homeless veteran population,” Couse added.
There are 300 vet centers across the United States. Vet centers are community-based counseling centers that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional counseling to eligible veterans, service members including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families.
Davis said, “The majority of our veterans in this area are Vietnam vets and retirees who are aging and may need help signing up for VA healthcare. They may also be eligible for other services and benefits.”
Sunday’s resource fair will allow veterans to meet others who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard or, most recently, the Space Force. The coalition would like to connect older veterans with younger vets who served in Afghanistan and the Gulf War.
Davis is an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2003. He will be at the resource fair and is eager to share his knowledge with others who have served. Davis was a member of the Military Police for eight years. Later, as a civilian, he worked for the American Red Cross in the Southern Tier before joining the Binghamton Vet Center.
He said, “Some veterans with good jobs have healthcare through their employers. They may not need VA healthcare. Our vet center is a guiding light for veterans that are struggling.”
Davis added, “Some veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress syndrome and alcohol abuse. Some are high-functioning, but may be too proud to seek mental health care. Some are couch surfing and do not know about VA services for homeless veterans.”
“We are planning to offer raffles and door prizes for those veterans who complete a Bingo card and visit multiple agencies. We’ll probably have coffee and donuts, although the Otsego County Veteran Coalition is not a funded agency with a budget,” he explained.
Davis said, “If you know of a veteran in crisis or who is having thoughts of suicide, have them call the National Suicide Hotline at 988.”
For more information, visit www.vetcenter.va.gov.