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Event provides helping hand to veterans

St. Joseph News-Press - 6/3/2018

June 03--When coming back from war, veterans are often overwhelmed when it comes to finding resources aimed at getting them back to a normal life. An annual program wants to help.

"That's why this event was started in the first place -- you'd be surprised how many veterans don't know that certain things are available to them because it's not known, it's not talked about," said Cora Keesler, a Frontline Families AmeriCorps Member for the St. Joseph Youth Alliance.

In its fourth year, Vet2Vet, a collaboration between agencies such as the St. Joseph Youth Alliance and AmeriCorps, helps veterans with opportunities such as jobs, financial resources and assistance with VA benefits.

In the years since it started, the event grew from being held in churches to the Civic Arena, where it will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9.

Keesler said that often when veterans come home, they're told about assistance from the VA, but they either don't know how to navigate it or aren't aware of all of the services that are available.

"The VA is a very broad topic. They do a lot of different things within itself, so it's just kind of like 'Who to call?'" she said. "A lot of times, they give up on trying because they have to jump through so many hoops."

Included in some of the resources offered to veterans are discounted or free fixes for automobiles and health care options if they have to wait more than 30 days for the VA.

"It's just small resources that most of the time they don't realize they have," Keesler said.

Considered the area's largest veterans resource event, the event provides the chance to connect with other vets, as well as get a free meal and haircut.

At 2017's Vet2Vet event, First Sgt. Bobby Scott, a member of the 139th Airlift Wing for 13 years, said the event helps give encouragement and energy to individuals who are confused by the process.

"When you bring all the different resources together in one place, it makes it a lot easier for people to look, find out what they're needing, and those needs are met," he said in a previous interview. "When they feel the support of the community around them, they're more inclined to move forward and take those initial first steps. As this happens every year, you're going to see more people come out and finally accept those resources that are out there."

The event will include activities for the whole family, including music, a craft and coloring table, a veteran giving demonstrations of how to live out of a pup tent and getting pictures with a motorcycle.

"It's better to be inclusive than be like 'Oh, if you're not a veteran then you can't come.' We want the whole community and kind of just honor the veterans that have served," Keesler said. "Even current military, we just want the community to be aware of how many veterans there are locally."

Seeing the effect the event has on veterans and the relief they get from knowing help is out there fills the hearts of people in the participating organizations.

"I, myself, am not giving them the resources, but I'm letting the resources be available in one place. It makes things a lot easier to find and if it helps them out, it's an even greater feeling," Keesler said.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Keesler at ckeesler@youth-alliance.org or call 816-232-0050.

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowGaug.

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(c)2018 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.)

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