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Boston helps returning veterans obtain services, benefits

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  January 12, 2012 11:39 AM

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(Wendy Madea/Globe Staff)

Mayor Thomas M. Menino hosted a breakfast for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, including Specialist Brandon J. Diaz-Cooley, with his son, at the Parkman House.

City officials have launched a new initiative to help Boston veterans learn about their rights by hosting periodical breakfasts designed to explain the city’s services and other benefits for returning servicemen and women.

“While we hope your return home is prosperous, and one that leads into a prosperous and stable career we have to let you all know help is available should you find yourself in hard times,” said Francisco Urena, commissioner of Boston’s Veterans’ Services Department, welcoming about a dozen veterans and their families Thursday to the city’s first breakfast at Beacon Hill’s historic Parkman House.

Urena, along with Mayor Thomas Menino, thanked the veterans for their service, which ranged from 43 years of duty to one, and assured them that they are not alone as the readjust to civilian life and try to navigate the often confusing system of benefits available to them.

“You folks who left their families, their jobs, their loved ones and without asking questions--where, why, how come?--you went and did a job for us so that we have the freedom in America we have today,” Menino said before offering a certificate of appreciation to each veteran.

The goal of the breakfast and chat was not only to show appreciation, but also to explain how the city can help any veteran or family member that needs it. That help can range from explaining veteran’s health insurance and the G.I. bill that helps veterans go to college; promoting classes for first time home buyers; finding job openings and training, or offering counseling.

“We don’t want to see a vet homeless because of lack of knowing how to seek services available to them,” said Urena, adding that his office can help with all the city, state, and federal benefits available to the 20,000 Boston veterans of all wars.

While more and more veterans return to Boston as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw down -- about 15 to 20 a month, according to Menino -- Urena said the department’s goal is still to help all veterans and their families.

“It is important to include not just the returning veterans, but include all veterans to get them in the process of getting them involved,” said Urena, who Menino credited with working to include more returning veterans when he took over the post last year.

James Miller, a Dorchester native and Army National Guardsman, who served a year in Afghanistan protecting engineers before returning home in July, said the information provided and the spirit of the breakfast were “absolutely” helpful.

“They gave a lot of good information. It was very informative. It’s also good to know the community is outreaching to veterans and support what we were doing over there,” said Miller, who now works as an Emergency Medical Technician for Boston EMS.

Miller said serving in Afghanistan was sometimes like an “alien world,” but community support and understanding for veterans when they return is a great help.

“I like knowing there’s a network out there,” he said.

Kaiser can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JohannaKaiser.

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